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Topics surrounding well-written Bob McCue.
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How To Deal With A TBM Spouse
Thursday, Jul 15, 2004, at 07:48 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
From Bob McCue:
What follows is part of a message I sent to a friend who asked me how he could enjoy life when so much of his life was tied to a spouse with whom he could not get along. The issue between them is Mormonism. She believes. He does not. They as a result do not communicate as they used to, and do not enjoy doing many things together. Hence, his comment regarding something I said on another thread here regarding the way in which post Mormonism has enabled me to enjoy each moment in ways not possible before, was that his relationship to his spouse radically limited his ability to do what I had described.

What follows supplements a Case Study Regarding Spousal Cognitive Dissonance at

I like the wisdom that says we should decide what we value, decide what we can influence through our actions, decide whether we are willing to act in light of the probable consequences of our actions, then do what we are prepared to do, and finally and most importantly, fully accept and get happy with what we cannot influence. A great deal of our unhappiness relates to our recognition of things we cannot influence, and our unwillingness to accept them.

I note that the process just decribed seems to me to vary depending upon the breadth of the perspective we employ. For example, today I can either work out early in the morning, get some extra sleep or type this post. If I choose the sleep or this post, I should not brate myself for not working out. Sleep would provide the benefit of some extra rest that makes me feel better instead of the benefits of a workout that in a different way would make me feel better. I won't discuss the merits of this post. But once I have made a choice, I should embrace the results or make a different choice. There is not point beating myself up for what I have chosen, or cannot change.

The decision as to whether to leave a relationship as important as that with our spouse, fraught with issues related to children etc., is worth a much greater investment of time and effort than most other decisions. So, I might decide what is important to me, and what I can do to increase the probability that I can achieve it (including leaving my marriage if necessary) and then say to myself, "This is one of those really important decisions that has wide ranging financial and relationship ramifications, so I am going to measure four times before cutting. I will use the next (x months, years, whatever) to maximize the probability that I have made a wise decision as to what is important to me, by gathering as many points of view as I can in that regard, and then I will use (x months, years, whatever) to try to bring what I value into my life as it currently stands. If it appears that I cannot achieve what I consider to be the minimally acceptable situation in that regard, I will leave my marriage."

Once I have choosen the process just described, and embarked upon it, I have chosen a particular type of sunset, and can enjoy it to the max. I can revel in the learning process that occurs while I collect perspectives. After I have decided what is important to me, it is highly probable that I will have to plough through, and drag my spouse through, heavy emotional seas as we see whether there is enough overlap in our lives to make them worth living together. I can allow those heavy seas to simply wash over me. I need not fight my way through that process. I will be seasoned by it, and will explore part of the human terrain that most travellers either do not explore, or are so numb while they do so that they do not see much. This is a sunset of a different type. I have made a choice and I can fully accept and embrace the consequence of that choice. And when I decide either to leave my marriage and face many painful and joyful consequences in that regard, or to stay in what will assuredly be a less than perfect situation, I should embrace what I have chosen. It is another sunset.

So, I would say that your difficult spousal situation (which is not that different from what mine was) is a sunset. We cannot choose many of our sunsets in the short term. We can choose more of them in the longer term, but even then our choice is limited. But we can always choose whether to embrace, or fight with, what the combination of our choices and random circumstance has served up. That approach to life, it seems to me, is the factor that correlates most strongly with a long term satisfaction. While I don't agree with all he says, Victor Frankl addresses this topic eloquently in "Man's Search for Meaning".

As I have said before, one of the Church's greatest evils in my view is the manner in which it furthers its institutional agenda and as a consequence encourages innocent young people to build their lives together on false foundations. This is what puts people like you, me and our spouses in situation you have described. However, it seems that humans of various stripes have forever dealt with similar things. Some of the greatest art with which I am familiar comes from this font. And more to the point, we can either use this experience to plumb our human depths, or fight it, regret it, etc. Once we are sufficiently self aware and for those of us who have the tools to do this, it seems clear to me which route is likely to be more satisfying.

The process as I describe it above also makes it clear to me why so many Mormons simply refuse to look or think about Mormon history and the social and personal conseuquences of Mormon belief. They choose to embrace their current relationships. For many personality types, this could not be done with a full intellectual awareness of what Mormonism does, means, comes from, etc. So, they shut down the process of learning about those things. This allows them to embrace what they have chosen to the greatest extent possible. I do not believe I was capable of doing that, but am not overly critical of those who are steered by their unconscious mechanisms in that direction. The only people in that situation I challenge are those within my own home, because of the degree of love and concern I feel for them, and because of the way in which they affect my life and the lives of other family members for whom I feel similar love and concern.

All the best,

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African Wisdom
Wednesday, Feb 16, 2005, at 08:59 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
My wife and I toured a local museum yesterday, and found the following African proverbs that I found enlightening enough to record and share:

- To not know is bad; to wish not to know is worse.

- Choose the neighbor before the house; the companion before the journey.

- He who can't dance says the drum is bad.

All the best,

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I See The Past, Present And Future, Existing All At Once Before Me
Thursday, Mar 10, 2005, at 07:44 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
That should sound familiar. It comes, more or less, from the DandC. I don't have my copy handy, so someone will have to fill in that blank for us.

I ran across this phrase while reading today. It is part of William Blake's work. He died in 1827. This is believed to have been written in about 1818. To see the words in context, go to

I used to think that this phrase from the DandC, which is consistent with modern physical theory, was evidence that Joseph Smith was inspired by God to know science that was ahead of his time. And yet again it seems that I was likely wrong.

Credits: Bob McCue Click Here For Original Link Or Thread.

Doctrine and Covenants 130:7:
"But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord."
From Representative Poetry Online:
William Blake (1757-1827)
Jerusalem: I see the Four-fold Man, The Humanity in deadly sleep

1 see the Four-fold Man, The Humanity in deadly sleep
2 And its fallen Emanation, the Spectre and its cruel Shadow.
3 I see the Past, Present and Future existing all at once
4 Before me. O Divine Spirit, sustain me on thy wings,
5 That I may awake Albion from his long and cold repose;
6 For Bacon and Newton, sheath'd in dismal steel, their terrors hang
7 Like iron scourges over Albion: reasonings like vast serpents
8 Infold around my limbs, bruising my minute articulations.
9 turn my eyes to the schools and universities of Europe
10 And there behold the Loom of Locke, whose Woof rages dire,
11 Wash'd by the Water-wheels of Newton: black the cloth
12 In heavy wreaths folds over every nation: cruel works
13 Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic
14 Moving by compulsion each other, not as those in Eden, which,
15 Wheel within wheel, in freedom revolve in harmony and peace.
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Do Young Mormon Women Want More Income Earning Potential In A Potential Mate Than Non-Mormon Women?
Monday, Mar 14, 2005, at 07:49 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I had just returned from watching our 22-year-old son's intramural basketball game. Wonderful game, by the way. Those kids do things - and do them beautifully - that my buddies and I did not dream of 25 years ago when I was playing seriously.

After the game I chatted for a while with an RM who I knew before his mission and had not seen in perhaps four or five years. He lamented a recent romantic relationship that ended instead of resulting marriage. I told him to be happy about that, and summarized some of the stats re marriage. That is, marriages that occur in the late 20s or early 30s are both more likely to survive long term, and to produce a higher degree of satisfaction for both partners that those that occur in the early 20s. He was intrigued, and one of his friends joined us at that point. He summarized what I had said for his friend (who I infer is over 25) and told him that he should be happy he has not gotten married. He did not seem happy about this.

We also talked a bit about the cultural pressures within Mormonism to marry young, how that is out of step with social reality and causes a lot of problems for young Mormon kids who marry before they are ready to, and then have a miserable time together. One of the boys indicated that Mormon marital practises in this regard would have worked great in 1820, or perhaps today in Africa but do not work now in North America. I agreed, and felt proud that I resisted the temptation to go into a full-on discussion of why Mormonism in general does not work or make sense. I don't know these kids well enough to want to get into that kid of a discussion with them. I only do that when either invited to do so, or with the ones I love the most and hence for whom I am prepared to do some heavy emotional lifting.

We then talked a bit about careers and money. I assured both boys that a very happy life can be enjoyed without a high powered career and a lot of money. I fact, I indicated that that for many people the need to earn the big bucks and flaunt the life style that often goes with it is a source of depression. They both looked relieved, and interested. After chatting this way for a few minutes, one of the boys said that he wished that I would talk to all of the Mormon girls in Calgary because none of them seem to understand that life can be great without marrying a doctor, dentist or lawyer. "That is all they want", he said.

When I repeated this conversation to my wife, she said that this is what losers who can't get a date because they have personalities like doormats tend to say (I am paraphrasing using my words, of course). She also said that if anything, Mormon girls are worse at looking down the road and thinking about the practicalities of life than non-Mormon girls are likely to be, and that if a Mormon guy is really trying to find a girl to marry him and can't do it, he would have even worse luck in the non-Mormon community. She concluded that money and future career prospects are less important for Mormon girls than non-Mormon girls.

What say ye?

All the best,

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“The Spirit” and When to Get Married
Wednesday, Mar 23, 2005, at 07:43 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
One of my favorite nephews just got engaged. He is 21, a recent RM and has been dating his now fiance for about 6 months. They plan to marry in August. The classic Mormon RM story.

She comes from a wealthy background. He is just starting school and has no idea what he will do to support his family. He stays at our house several days a week while attending school, and over the years we have done a lot together. We both have a passion for basketball, and have played numerous hotly contested games of one on one, two on two and three on three against each other over the years. He is, incidentially, about 5'10" and nicely dunks the basketball.

I saw him this morning for the first time since I heard the news. We were alone at the breakfast table. The conversation went something like this:

B: Well, if it isn’t Mr. Nucking Futs!

N: Huh? Ooooh!! Thanks a lot Uncle Bob for that vote of confidence.

B: You’re welcome. Seriously, you’re nuts. And I am one of the few people who know you well enough, and love you enough, to give you the straight goods.

N: I appreciate that. But we’ve thought about this carefully, and waited for a lot longer than some people said we should so that we could make a careful decision. We ….

B: (Laughing out loud) You’ve waited along time?!! How long? Six months!?

N: Seven (laughing).

B: (Still laughing) You can’t even tell me that with a straight face!

N: You were laughing and making me laugh. That’s not fair!

B: Come on. Seriously, I am going to tell you what I think because I care a lot about you. I don’t expect that you are going to listen to me and say, “Oh, Uncle Bob thinks I shouldn’t get married so I won’t.” But I can assure you that there will be some significant bumps in the road between now and when you pull the pin on this, and when you hit those bumps I hope you will remember what I have to say and hear alarm bells ring.

You are making a decision with your little head instead of your big one. I understand how that works because I made a similar decision. Mormonism has you in a box that way. Your body and mind are both screaming at you that it is time for you to consummate a relationship both physically and emotionally, and there is only one way a faithful Mormon can do that – by getting married.

N: Uncle Bob, its not about that. We love being together …

B: Plllleeeeese. Let me finish. That’s what they all say. That is what I said too. I don’t doubt that you love being together.

We make most of our decisions based on our perception of probabilities. Some decisions, like the one you are making, are exceptions to that rule. They are based on emotion. And those are often the worst decisions.

The statistics, and hence the probabiliites, are clear. People who marry as young as you two are divorce more often and have less satisfying marriages than those who marry later in life when they both know more about who they are, what is important to them, etc.

N: We are going to grow up together.

B: Maybe. But the statistics say that a lot of people who marry as youung as you are don't grow together. They grow apart and that causes trouble for them. What makes you think you are exempt from what seems to be the rule for everyone else?

N: We will choose to make it work. That's why.

B: That is a great attitude. And it would have a much better chance of working if you were not handicapping yourself as you are.

Why do you think people in Utah use more anti-depressants than anyone else in North America? Why do you think the personal bankruptcy rate is higher in Utah than anywhere else in the US? This likely has something to do with when and how people marry and have families in Utah.

N: Those statistics have nothing to do with me.

B: Really? If you think statistics don’t apply to you, you are dreaming in Technicolor. Does gravity apply to you?

What about this statistic. Your beloved is a wonderful girl, but all she knows is a lavish life style. You had better make one hell of a lot of money boy.

N: You don’t know her like I do. We have talked a lot about that. She knows it will be tough for us for a while. She is ready for that.

B: I don’t doubt that she said it, and means it. But she has only lived one way. If you ask her long term to live another, I am willing to bet that it will be tougher than she can imagine, and that will make it tough on you. Sexual incompatibility and money are the two primary causes of divorce and marital unhappiness. You know nothing (I presume) about your sexual compatibility and you know about the only kind of lifestyle she has lived and, frankly, there is only a slim chance you can deliver anything close to that. This is a bad bet boy. Believe me.

N: That's for the advice.

B: You are committing yourself to a lifestyle you have no idea whether you can supply. I have worked my ass off for the same reason, and I have been lucky. I would much rather have not made the commitment to bring in all of that income, had more choice as to what I could do to earn a living as a result, and had more liesure time. I know you, and have a pretty good idea that you are not going to like the grind you are probably in for.

N: It might be good for me to have a gun to my head. I need to work harder; to get more focussed.

B: I have never heard a worse reason to get married than the one you just gave me. You are making me more worried instead of less.

By the way, I have seen you hit lots of jump shots from just outside the three-point line. You take that shot because you know you can hit it. Right?

N: Yup.

B: But you don’t take shots from three steps out from there. Why?

N: Obviously because that is outside my range.

B: But an inexperience player might jack up shots outside his range, right? Shots that would make an experienced player like you cringe because he knows that their chance of going is in poor. Right?

N: Yup.

B: You see where I am going with this?

N: Yup.

B: You are pulling up for a shot just inside of center Buddy, but because you have no experience in this game you don't even no it. And I have played this game for almost 25 years, and am cringing. What should that tell you? Who knows more about this game, me or you? Who is not emotional about this decision, me or you?

N: That’s your opinion. None of what you say means anything about my situation.

This went on for a while, with plenty of joking interspersed with the serious stuff. DW then came into the room and in her own, must more understated way, basically said the same thing I had. Then I told our nephew that despite what I said, I truly hoped that it worked out well for him, and I left the room. While I was gone, the following ensued.

“N: Aunt Juli, you have to trust me on this. I have prayed about what I am doing and I feel certain it is the right thing.

J: (Smiling as wickedly as she can, which is not very wickedly) I received the same confirmation before I married your Uncle Bob.”

That, it seems, stopped the young man in his tracks. It was the only thing that was said to him this morning that made him even pause. Aunt Juli received spiritual confirmation that God wanted her to marry Uncle Bob, and now Uncle Bob is a rank apostate. How does that work? Hmmm.

All I can take credit for is an assist. Had I not started the conservation, DW could not have finished it. And of course, I doubt that either what I said or what she said will have any effect on what happens.

All the best,
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The Use Of Mythology In The Recovery Process
Monday, Mar 28, 2005, at 01:56 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
The widest angle lens I have found while trying to understand my experience on the way out of Mormonism was handed to me by a friend as I was going through some of my darkest moments of that birth canal. She referred me to comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell. I found him and others like him to be immensely helpful (see in general and starting at page 36).

Campbell describes mythology as those beliefs used to make sense out of life’s most basic questions: Why do we exist?; why do we suffer?; why do we rejoice?; why do we die?; what happens after death?; etc. He notes common threads in these myths, and patterns related to the nature of myths and the human groups that believe them. For example, people who live in environments where resources are scarce and hence fought over by competing human groups tend to have myths that justify killing other humans, whereas people who live in environments of abundance don’t tend to have such myths. Mythologies, Campbell would say, are mostly functional – they help us to make sense out of what we have to do to survive.

Mythologies are, in general terms, of great use if used as metaphor and dangerous if taken literally. Think, for example, of the carnage that has been inflicted on mankind by those who take literally the idea that God has a “chosen” people. There is nothing wrong with this idea in metaphor, and it is a killer when taken literally.

Another way to think of mythology is as a form of extended or meta-analogy. That is, myths are not explicitly based on empirical truth that prove cause and effect relationships to exist, but rather suggest broad cause and effect relationships that can be taken in many different ways. We will consider below one of these below in the form of the “Hero” myth, which encourages us to leave the safe confines of our social group and ideology to break new ground. This thirst for exploration and learning is basic to humanity, and is responsible for our continual learning about how to control our environment. As we continue to learn, we become more powerful. One of the longstanding concerns of some of the most insightful members of society has been that human power will outstrip human wisdom to the point at which we will destroy ourselves. I think that concern is, by and large, healthy since the more aware we are collectively of these risks the less likely we are to be harmed by them.

Analogies are dangerous because a false analogy that supports the status quo or what we for some reason want or need to believe tends to persuasive. Such analogies are often based on limited data that suggest spurious cause and effect relationships. A nephew who was in Thailand when the tsunami hit in December of 2004 told me a story recently that nicely illustrates this point. He was not in the area that was devastated, but met many people who were. One fellow told him that he and some friends had planned a boat trip for the day of the tsunami. However, he foolishly got so drunk the night before that he was sick when the others left for the cruise. They died, and he lived. Magical thinking people (including superstitious, or religious people) could draw many conclusions from this event. Maybe getting drunk is a good survival strategy overall? Maybe each time the urge to get drunk is felt, that is God’s way of protecting either that particular man, or mankind in general? Maybe being spared disaster in this bizarre way was God’s method of communicating something to this man – maybe he should continue to do something that he was doing, or stop doing something he was doing, or start doing something new (like join the Mormon Church if he had been thinking of doing that or if he met Mormon missionaries a short time after his brush with disaster)? Etc. For the magical thinking person, there are innumerable ways to use an event of this sort to justify doing or not doing countless things.

The naturalistic interpretation of same event would be, quite simply, “shit happens”. This man was incredibly lucky. Full stop. The event has no more cosmic significance than my stepping on and crushing one bug as I walk across my lawn, and narrowly missing another. However, a brush with death may make us introspect, and perhaps appreciate the fragility of our existence a bit better (for a while at least) and so change our behaviour in some ways that we find valuable.

A much more important, and infamous, false analogy is the “survival of the fittest” aspect of evolutional theory that was used to justify human eugenics of the type that underlay the Holocaust.

One of my favorite false analogies within Mormonism is that between feelings and truth. For example, most humans have strong feelings for their families, and when they are put in a situation that brings those feelings out it tends to feel like something “good” has happened and hence whatever seems to have caused this to occur should also be “good”. Feelings of this kind tend to accompany things like marriages, expressions of love between family members, surviving crises related to health and other things together, etc. Mormon belief routinely gives credit for these good feelings to the Mormon institution, and hence uses these common human experiences to suggest that Mormonism is “good”, and hence is what it says it is – God’s one and only true church on Earth. The logic works like this:

· Families are good;

· Whatever makes you feel good about your family is good;

· Whatever is good is “true” (“By their fruits ye shall know them”);

· Mormonism has taken control of many important family occasions (weddings, funerals, public expressions of love for family members during testimony meetings, etc.; private expressions of love through father’s blessings, etc.);

· Therefore, Mormons often feel powerful, healthy emotions related to their families and friends as a result of participating in Mormon activities and rituals;

· Therefore, Mormonism is good;

· Therefore, Mormonism is “true”;

· Therefore, Mormonism is what it says it is – God’s one and only true church on Earth.

· Therefore, the Celestial Kingdom exists and if I want to be there in a state of incredible happiness with my family I must obey Mormon leaders.

The naturalistic explanation for this phenomenon is that countless other religions and ideologies have used similarly spurious cause and effect connections to control people's behaviour. Some of these are more or less benign, and others are terrible. Nazism, for example, amplied the natural socially useful forces of human pride and allegiance to the social group, fear of outsiders and insecurity related to recent German history, to cause World War II and the Holocaust. American democracy was created through the use of similar forces.

Mormon testimonies, hence, are in my view fully explained by social forces of type just described and the nuerology described at starting at page 77.

I have become increasing orientated toward empirical analysis and the naturalistic explanations derived from them as I have moved through my recovery. That is, I place increasing weight on what science can tell us with some degree of certainty about cause and effect relationships. When science conflicts with long cherished ideas, usually based on a false analogy of some kind, I try hard to allow the insights gained from science to govern. So, I have becomes sceptical of the use of analogies that are not backed up by data that confirm both that the analogy really works as advertised, and that the frequency of the phenomena in question supports the point it is used to make.

However, myths that have stood the test of time and have cropped up in human culture after human culture often are found to contain kernels of truth that have been explained reasonably well by science. Mythology can help us to understand both the workings of our own minds (or souls – use the term your prefer) and social groups. They are, in a sense, collective dreams. And there are some myths or parables that are particularly helpful to those who are struggling through the massive personal and social transition that is recovery from Mormonism. Here are a few of my favourites – The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Social Masks, and The Child, Camel, Dragon and Lion. After reading these summaries, you might want to go back and re-read the recovering Mormon transition steps above and see how they been transformed by this ancient context.
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Why Can't Insiders Accurately Perceive Their Own Culture?
Tuesday, Mar 29, 2005, at 07:59 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
The following is a summary of some of the principles of social behaviour that make it difficult for insiders to accurately perceive their own behaviour.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is at the root of denial. Fear is at the root of cognitive dissonance. The extent of our fear is determined by our general tendencies in that regard, and our beliefs. The nature of our beliefs determine our vulnerability to the issue in question. For example, I used to fear not being with my family in the Celestial Kingdom and wanted to be there with them. Fear and desire walk down this path hand in hand. Hence I obeyed the rules designed to get me what I wanted and avoid what I feared. As soon as I no longer believed that the Celestial Kingdom existed, my motivation to do many things evaporated, including some that I did not even know were related to that belief disappeared. I discovered the link while wondering why my motivation toward certain activities or attitudes had changed.

Cognitive dissonance theory is concerned with the relationships among cognitions. A cognition is a piece of knowledge about an attitude, an emotion, a behaviour, a value, etc. People hold a multitude of cognitions simultaneously, and these cognitions form irrelevant, consonant or dissonant relationships with one another. (See As William Safire in a New York Times op-ed piece (December 29, 2003), put it:

A cognition is a bit of knowledge or belief. When it disagrees with another cognition in our head … a nasty jangling occurs. To end this cognitive dissonance … we change the weak cognition to conform to the stronger one. Take Aesop's fox, who could not reach a lofty bunch of grapes no matter how high he jumped. One foxy cognition was that grapes were delicious; the other was that he couldn't get them. To resolve that cognitive dissonance, the fox persuaded himself that the grapes were sour - and trotted off, his mind at ease.

Cog dis usually functions in a manner no more complicated than that. But while Aesop neatly illustrated cog dis, he did not adequately reveal the primary force that lies beneath it – fear.

One of Buddhism’s central and enlightening notions is that most of mankind’s ills are caused by the manner in which fear or desire cause us to make unwise decisions. As the following summary of recent research will show, this ancient insight is remarkably accurate. Buddha’s “middle way” was the path that lay between fear and desire and so was out of both their reaches. And since a good portion of desire is fear that we will not obtain that which we most desire, fear is the most primal and effective of emotions. The well known case of denial in marriages where infidelity is a problem illustrates this. The faithful spouse is usually unable to see the evidence of cheating until well after most others can see it. This denial of reality is a function primarily of the spouse’s fear of losing the relationship if the information in question is processed and dealt with. The greater the fear, the greater the cog dis it will produce and the deeper will be the consequent denial and suppression of threatening information. The psychology related to personality profiles indicates to us that not all people are influenced by fear and desire in the same way. In one study that focussed on the question of why some people are more religiously inclined than others, it was determined that the personality trait called “openness” correlates strongly to religious tendencies. Openness is the inclination toward new experience; the opposite of dogmatism. The more “open” a person is, the less likely she is to be influenced by fear in any particular situation, and the less likely she is to be religious in the traditional sense of that word. That is, the less likely she will be to accept traditional religious authority and the literalistic interpretation of scripture it posits. And of course the opposite is also true.

So, the picture that comes into focus is that in any particular case, denial is a function of two things. First, how open to new experience the individual in question person is, and second, how significant is the fear that the denied information is perceived to create.

A faithful Mormon should be expected to experience massive amounts of fear upon contemplating the possibility that the religious experience on which much of his life, family and social relationships are based is false. This fear produces a powerful form of cognitive dissonance, and hence an extensive or suppression of the information. We should expect that the more faithful the Mormon, the less able she will be to see the reality of the institution that sponsors her religious faith and the effect that faith has upon her.

Rational v. "Automatic" Decision-Making

Humans perceive themselves to be rational decision makers. However, there is a great deal of psychological and other research that indicates that many of our decisions are automatic, likely as a result of decision making routines that evolution programmed into us to help us to survive in a harsh environment where decisions have to be made quickly and on the basis of limited information. However, we have a primal need to justify our actions, and in this modern world dominated as it is by a "rational" paradigm, that means we twist our knee jerk reactions into a rational framework in order to feel comfortable with them. For example, why do Mormons believe that tithing brings forth God's blessings? Because of stories told that illustrate the cause effect relationship between paying tithing and receiving blessings. Why are Mormon Priesthood blessings perceived to "work"? Same kind of reasoning. Michael Shermer wrote a book that persuasively sets out how coincidence, mankind's tendency to look for patterns where they don't exist and a misunderstanding of cause and effect relationships nicely accounts for beliefs of this nature, and that the more intelligent a person is the more likely she is to defend the beliefs that she at some point in her development (usually early) she accepted as "true" (See "Why People Believe Weird Things").

One of the evolutionary rules of thumb (sometimes called "heuristics") noted in the research is that when powerful emotions are encountered, reason shuts down. One of those forces is fear. This is adequately explained by what I indicated above respecting cog dis. Powerful desires for money, prestige, sex etc. can also overcome reason. One of my clients was on the verge of falling for a fraudulent financial scheme that offered him $20,000,000, and came to me for tax planning advice. He had tickets purchased to fly to Nigeria the following week to sign a few papers and collect his money. After I asked some questions, and then provided him with news service articles that indicated how others had lost their money, been kidnapped for ransom, and in one case killed as a result of participating in similar schemes, he reacted like someone coming out of a trance. This experienced, successful businessman's considerable ability to reason had been overcome by the emotion of greed, which is of course a variant of desire.

Other research indicates that the most powerful of emotional forces are often connected to "value structures" such as religion (my religion is "true" and yours is not, for example), morality (the abortion issue; the homosexuality issue, for example), political issues (democracy v. communism, for example), etc. Another powerful emotion that affects our beliefs is love. I recently watched in amusement (and with some concern) as one of my young friends who I did not think had a religious bone in his body fell in love with a faithful Mormon girl and began to think seriously about serving a mission after years of resisting the pressure of his parents and others to do so.

Love and fear combine to produce potent emotional distortions of reason. This is responsible for the advice provided to medical doctors and other professionals that they not attempt to diagnose or treat themselves or family members. For example, a doctor's love for her child, and fear of the consequence that a serious illness would bring to that child, for example, has been demonstrated to impair her ability to see symptoms that clearly indicate serious illnesses such as cancer.

Yet another area of study focuses on our inherent risk aversion. We tend to overestimate risk and underestimate potential gain from risk taking, and we tend to overvalue what we already possess when it is compared to what we don't possess. One fascinating study in this regard provided university students with one item each that had the same value (say $5) in their school book store. They were also given some money with which to bid on the items other students were given, and were required to put their own item up for auction with a minimum sale price. On average, each student was prepared to pay much less (say $3.50) for items similar to her own than the amount for which she was prepared to sell her own item (say $7). The tendency to value what we have more than similar items we don't have, and to overestimate risk and underestimate the rewards to be gained by taking risk, would promote societal stability and hence make evolutionary sense. And they make us unlikely to change our minds respecting something like religious beliefs we have already accepted.

Another line of research deals with decision-making under conditions of great uncertainty and indicates that the more uncertainty and perceived risk, the more likely it is that we will go with the crowd and accept what authority figures have to say about what we should do. This is one manifestation of something called the "conformist bias" or "authority bias". The conformist bias explains the stock market buying that leads to "bubbles" in the market, and the panic selling that leads to irrational market collapse. It also applies to things like the global warming issue. There is a strong tendency in this regard to agree with the people who are dominant in our group. And what is more uncertain than religious belief? Even in cases where the phenomena are not terribly complex, the conformist bias exerts a powerful influence.

Some researchers have suggested that the conformist bias is just one of many aspects of the authority bias. A strong, perceived source of authority is often found at the root of group behaviour that sets in motion the conformist bias. It should be clear how this plays into the religious mindset, and particularly with regard to the authoritarian, hierarchical Mormon social structure.

In general, the more uncertain a matter, the more influential the authority and conformist biases will be. And authority, of course, is a subjective matter. My beliefs confer authority on certain people and institutions. Hence, those who want to influence me should be expected to attempt to control what I believe. These biases are aided and abetted by the nature of human memory. Elizabeth Loftus, world-renowned memory expert and U. of Washington psychology professor has noted:

Memories don’t fade… they … grow. What fades is the initial perception, the actual experience of the events. But every time we recall an event, we must reconstruct the memory, and with each recollection the memory may be changed – colored by succeeding events, others people’s recollections or suggestions … truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memories, are not objective factors but subjective, interpretative realities. (Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, p. 182)

Loftus provides numerous examples of how easy it is to suggest to people that they have had an experience, and cause them to believe that they really had it (See “Memory, Faults and Fixes”, Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 2002, reprinted in “The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2003 Edition) at p. 127). Of particular note are certain experiments that have been conducted to illustrate the way in which our memories and current perceptions are shaped by how we think others have perceived the same event we did. For example, subjects might be shown a series of slides depicting an event or actually witness a staged event, such as a theft or a traffic accident. Then, the subjects would be given additional information concerning the event. The post-event information given to one group would contain material that contradicted some details of the actual event, such as a stop sign being described as a yield sign. The post-event information provided to a second group of subjects (the control group) would contain no such conflicting information. After ingesting the supplemental information, all subjects would be given a test concerning what they witnessed. In all of these experiments, the subjects who were given the misleading supplemental information performed more poorly than control subjects respecting the items regarding which they had been given misleading information.

This research sheds light on how Mormon testimonies are created. Once we have heard enough other people say, for example, that they felt something particular when they read the Book of Mormon, we are capable of manufacturing similar memories. And the more authoritative, credible, loving etc. the people who suggest these things to us, the more effective they are likely to be. I believe, in addition, that there are other and much more real influences behind the LDS testimony phenomenon. See at p. 77 and following for a summary.

It has also been shown that certain experiences that cause of the emotion of "elevation" to occur are highly influential with respect to our behaviour. When people see unexpected acts of goodness, they commonly described themselves as being surprised, stunned, and emotionally moved. When asked "Did the feeling give you any inclination toward doing something?," the most common response is to describe generalized desires to help others and to become a better person, and feelings of joy. These feelings bind human groups together, and so create strong, reliable communities. Members of Mormon communities exhibit this kind of behaviour. However, the behaviours in question often also bind the participants to the Church itself. For example, by leaving on a mission for two years, a young man in the Mormon community inspires precisely the kind of emotion described above. And he is subjecting himself to a powerful conditioning force that will make it much more difficult for him to "question" when he returns, and he is keeping himself very busy during precisely the period of time during which most young men question. Hence, the community is strengthened by an act that inspires the emotion of elevation, and at the same time a number of other things are done that will also strengthen the community. Many Mormon conventions have this kind of effect.

As noted above, the prize religion offers is huge – relief from the anguish caused by our greatest existential fears. And the LDS Church ups the stakes significantly in this regard by positing the possibility of eternal family life and has created a society in which an admission of disbelief often costs dearly in terms of marriage and other family relationships, social status, etc. In the face of this kind of prize/penalty structure, we should not be surprised that apparently rational people are easily persuaded to believe in irrational, extremely low probability versions of future reality such as the Celestial Kingdom. And when you add to this the psychological pressure that being surrounded by believing Mormons for most of life, bearing public testimony on countless occasions as to the certainty of my belief, and then being placed in leadership positions within the Mormon community, it is not surprising to me that for almost three adult decades I was unable to see what is now so clear to me respecting the Church and the manner in which it treated me and continues to treat others.

Even Scientific Thinking is Influenced by these Principles

As noted above, the principles just described were developed with respect to human mental processes in general. They have not been yet broadly applied to religious phenomena. One of my friends who is an LDS professor of religious psychology who has been helping me with this project indicated recently to me that he thinks this neglect is due to the greater credit given within the academic community for empirically oriented research. Since the application of psychological principles to religious behaviour does not easily fit into the mould, it is not an attractive research subject. He agrees with my assessment that the application of these principles to the formation of religious beliefs and cultural practises is reasonable to assume, and that given the dominant nature of emotional forces relative to religious issues, it is also reasonable to conclude that cognitive dissonance, denial etc. will be powerful forces in the determination of religious beliefs. For an excellent overview respecting the application ofcognitive dissonance principles to religious issues in general, see "Speculations on a Privileged State of Cognitive Dissonance, by Conrad Montell at

I note in particular something that Thomas Kuhn pointed out in his landmark book on the philosophy of science, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". In that book he coined the term "paradigm shift" to describe how science changes. Until his time, it was believed that science progressed in a more or less linear fashion. He pointed out that science seems, rather, to lurch forward. His explanation for this, which has been widely accepted in the scientific community, is that the majority of each generation of scientists becomes captive to the dominant "paradigm" of their day. However, a minority of each generation will see things the majority cannot see, and will pursue those interests, sometimes to the derision of their colleagues. A future generation of scientists, less encumbered by the paradigm of their forbears, will often recognize in the fringe work something of importance that will be adopted, amplified and provide the basis for a new paradigm that will rapidly transform the scientific community's views respecting the issues in question. And then the process will repeat itself. A classic example of this is found in the history of DNA. Gregor Mendel did the ground work for modern DNA theory, published his work, and was ignored by the scientists of his generation. He is now revered as the founder of genetic science.

The scientific community is the pinnacle of rational thought in our society. If scientists are subject to the forces described above in the manner Kuhn indicates, how much more so are the rest of us likely to be? And since the correlation between emotion and irrational belief is so strong, and the connection of religion to emotion so pervasive, should we not expect great difficulty as we attempt to be "rational" about religion? But, given modern man's need to explain everything he does in rational terms, should we not also expect him to do that, and believe with all his heart that he is being rational with respect to his religious beliefs?

When we add all of the above factors us, we should not be surprised that it is excruciatingly difficult for the typical faithful Mormon to look any information in the eye that questions the legitimacy of the beliefs on which his life is based.
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Miscellanea re Adjustments to leaving Mormonism
Friday, Apr 22, 2005, at 02:44 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
A friend just forwarded this to me. Since it is relevant to our discussion regarding the merits of different forms of spirituality and belief in God, I pass it along. Click Here For Original Link Or Thread.

I found your discussion of spirituality interesting and useful, and during my trip with my son did some reading that is relevant toit that I will pdf and send to you. The most interesting comes from a phd thesis written at Cornell by, of all people, the lead singer of the punk rock group "Bad Religion". The guy is a bona fide biologist - anthropologist and did some brilliant work for his phd thesis in the form of a series of interviews with some of the greatest living biologists about their beliefs in god, and how those beliefs can be reconciled to the theory of evolution. He was following up on earlier studies that are reviewed in "How We Believe" by Shermer. Those studies found that a surprising large percentage of scientists believe in a god of some kind. However, the more respected the scientist, the less likely such a belief as to be found. Greg Graffin (the punk rocker/scientist) refined and updated the study by focussing on biologists (including geneticists), making the survey questionaire more complex, and including detailed interviews with about a dozen of the most respected of the group. The interviews are published in full in an appendix to the thesis and were the most interesting part. This work was done in 2004. You can order a copy if you wish at

Another book that I have not yet read, but will buy shortly, was recommended to me by a friend who teaches pyshcology at a US university. He says that it will become the locus classicus in this field, and is called "Attachment, Evolution and the Psychology of Religion", by Lee Kirkpatrick. See I note that the friend in question is more like you in orientation regarding spirituality than me, and unlike both you and me, he has taken a "soft" approach to Mormonism. His wife is still active, he still attends but has recently begun to decline callings. He is a "dont' rock the boat" kind of guy, and a serious academic with regard to religious matters. A fascinating character. I ran into him on the internet at a site that had nothing to do with Mormonism, and he has helped me immensely during the past couple of years in terms of finding materials to answer the burning question of the day.

Here are a few other things he recently recommended that I look regarding adjustment to and understanding changing belief in general:

I have skimmed this stuff, and find it useful. It runs along the same lines as much of Martin Seligman's work (see which as you know I have found very helpful.

This friend also recommends Matthew Alper's "The God Part of the Brain", which I have not read.

In any event, I think your and my main area of disagreement is that I am no longer prepared to place much weight on the things that cannot shown to be at least probable based on scientific experiment. I understand that I must make many decisions based on non-scientific theories, assumptions etc., and I try hard to be aware of when I am doing that and remain particularly open to changing my views in those areas since they are notoriously unreliable. The comments of SL Slacker in the Foyer thread noted above (he is a medical researcher - microbiologist I think - who will be at the Consciousness conference hosted by Shermer at CalTech next month) regarding the rate at which knowledge is expanding is relevant to that. The more credence we give to non-scientific "knowledge" the deeper the roots things like the confirmation bias will grow, and the more resistant we are likely to be as information that disconfirms our beliefs comes to light.

In any event, I will enjoy continuing to kick these ideas around with you, but am out of time for today. I arrived at the office at 6:30 am after leaving last night at after 8 pm, and the closing we are working on today is starting to heat up. I have not yet read the post I forwarded above, other than to skim the first few paragraphs and conclude that it is worth reading. Slacker and I have corresponded enough for me to take him seriously. When I get the chance to reply to him, I will ask him to be more specific with regard to some of the examples he gives early on re. fundamental scientific problems that have been recently solved. And I would be interested to see how he responds to some of your approaches. [end]

The next is a recent email (the last in a long chain) to a bishop who is trying to decide how to deal with his recent discovery of the reality of Mormonism, is concerned about his marriage breaking up etc. * is the bishop. ** is the pyshcology professor noted above, who is involved in the chain as well.

* and **:

As usual, **'s advice is very sound. **, the presentation notes you mentioned did not come through to me. I would love to read them. And thanks for the book and website references. It has been too long since the last time I looked over your shoulder for some reading material.

About all I can say, *, is that the fear that all involved feel regarding the consequences of fundamental change in belief is likely overstated. Evolution likely designed us to deeply fear getting so sideways with our primary social group and/or family that we might be rejected by them. For most of human existence that likely increased the risk of death measurably. I felt as you describe feeling, and found that when I pushed ahead and did what I felt on principle and a long term cost benefit basis was important, that it was not as bad as I thought it would be.

In ** and me, you have two very different examples of how to approach the main issues related to Mormonism. ** has quietly withdrawn in a variety of ways. I left much more openly, and was ready to leave my marriage if it came to that. I don't think it would be possible for me, let alone healthy for me, to proceed as ** has. And he might well say with justification the same about what I have done. That is to say that there is no "right" way to handle this. I think one should do his best to assess his own personality and family, and then do what appears best in that context. And, one should try to make the decision based on principles and probabilities, because that is how the best decisions are most often made. When we are emotional and fearful, the part of our brain that works with probabilities shuts down to one extent or another. My observation is that most people who are tying to leave Mormonism exaggerate the risks of things like marital failure, loss of relationships etc. that are likely to result from that, and underestimate both the problems associated with continuing to enable Mormon activity in their children and loved ones and the wonderful nature of the world that can be created outside of Mormonism. The second, in particular, has been a beautiful surprise for me.

As you know, how my seven kids would be affected if I laid low for five or so years weighed heavily on me. By acting as quickly as I did, I caught the then 15 year old in time to steer her into more reality based waters, and the youngest three will all have the chance to make a decision regarding religious belief without being hamstrung with nearly as much Mormon baggage as their older siblings were. One of the many ugly, unconscious untruths told by Mormons is that we should "just let the kids make up their own minds" after handing them over to a highly effective conditioning machine. That is not allowing someone to make up her own mind.

My 20 year old daughter and RM son show no signs of changing beliefs. Had I been able to act three or four years earlier, I think I would have had a good chance to affect them in a material way. It may be too late for that now, and I still have not found a way to comfortably accept that. I am grieving the loss of a daugther and son, in essence.

*, I know a few people who are like **, and a few who are like me. I don't know you well enough to feel confident which end of that spectrum you are on. Your last email sounded a lot like what went on in my head for a long time. A lot of pain, fear, discomfort with the path you are on, etc. I am not sure how ** would assess that. And it is certainly too simplictic to use ** and me as the ends of the only relevant spectrum.

I shouldn't say much more than that. I empathize with your situation because I remember vividly what a similar situation felt like, and hope you will find a way out that works for you. If you decide to take the bull by the horns, I think I can safely say that it is probable that most of what you fear will not come to pass, and the fear you feel as well as your unfamiliarity with the alternative ways of living that are open to you combine to blind you to some great experiences that await you, your wife and your family. My wife was as intransigent as yours, and has told me several times lately that she is very happy with our new life, that our marriage has never been better, etc. We still struggle with some things, but I agree with her. We have a much better chance of thriving together now than ever. And I am confident that had I not forced the issue, she would have remained an active Mormon while I did my own thing. That would have decimated our intimacy. It was doing that. I don't think our marriage would have survived that way. And if it did, that might have been the greater tragedy. There is so much more to life and relationships than we could experience while "unequally yoked".

Human beings respond in large measure to necessity. As my personality collided with the reality of Mormonbelief and practise, it created some "necessities" in both my wife's and my lives. I believe that as a result, we are both far better off than I can imagine being had we remained active Mormons while I pretended, or in any of the other possible combinations other than the one we ended up with.

And then again, maybe I am just rationalizing my own choices. As noted above, ** is making something work that I can't imagine. And there are other ways of doing things as well.
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The "Meaning Of Life" As Per Ursula Goodenough In Her Book "The Sacred Depths Of Nature"
Monday, May 23, 2005, at 07:46 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I finished reading this book this morning, having heard Dr. Goodenough speak at a conference last weekend, and having had the chance to chat with her. She is one of those rare people who project both a sense of personal power and make those in her presence feel both valued and safe. And her book will take a cherished place in my library because she has hit almost directly on the head a number of things that I have been groping toward for some time. And through her I have now connected with a community of people who see things much as I do, and have a similar sense of value and priority.

So, I highly recommend this book. Reviews that come at it from different perspectives (some more critical than others) can be found at the following links:

I add my comments as follows:

This book is the single shortest and most lucid review of big picture analysis of “reality” I have found. She starts with the big bang and then flips through the possible creation of life and evolutionary theory in a few short chapters. She reviews a lot of material with which I was familiar using novel examples to explain concepts I do not remember grasping before as I now do thanks to her, and breaks lots of new ground for me. The book is well worth reading for its scientific content, and it pitched at a level that is easily understandable for those without much science background, such as me.

One concept I don’t recall thinking about before is the difference between asexual and sexual life in terms of evolutionary strategy. Asexual organisms (such as bacteria) are immortal in the sense that their genetic essence does not change as they divide. As long as the ecological niche required to support them exists, they simply continue to clone themselves. Sexual life has a different evolutionary strategy that involves changing to adapt to a changing environment. The creation of the genes of each individual through the combination of the genes of its parents means that each individual is different, and hence of limited lifespan. The natural selection process is then presented with an endless array of different individuals from which to choose. Those that survive and, in general, the best adapted to survive and propagate. So, the “eternal” part of sexual life is the genome that is continually adapting and manifesting itself in different forms (and in our case, modifying its environment to suit its capacities). All other parts of each sexual individual is subservient in a sense to this – to protect the unique part of the genome housed in its sperm or eggs until they can perform their tiny function in this grand drama.

I add to Goodenough’s story the following diversion. During this evolutionary dance, small group animals at some point emerged. And from them, about 15 million years ago, emerged apes. And from them, about 5 million years ago, emerged the first “humans”. And from them, a relatively few thousand years ago, emerged humans who could communicate symbolically, and were (or shortly thereafter became) self conscious much as we are. The ability to communicate symbolically conferred enormous survival and propagation advantages on homo sapiens, and made him also conscious of his individually limited span of life. That is, the very organ (the brain) that became conscious of its own existence became conscious at the same time of its imminent demise. You don’t get one without the other unless you are asexual (like a bacteria or amoeba). Hmmm. Maybe this might explain the tendency of some religious folk to celibacy.

In any event, the paradox of being suddenly both aware of existence and death as well as the many powerful emotions connected to the evolutionary process are responsible in one way or another for much of our religious and artistic inclination. I am leaving aside for the moment the way in which religion is harnessed by those who wish to control their fellows. It is the almost universal inclinations that make this possible that I am paying attention to at the moment.

So, we have become conscious of ourselves and our instinctive drive to propagate and survive that are essential for our life form’s evolutionary strategy form to work. This drive is the whispering of our eternal genome, which we interpret as our own immortality. This faint, comforting voice contradicts the death we see all around us and which is essential to our life form. Individual death allows life to dance with our environment, and to display itself in the endless, breathtaking variety that inspires virtually universal reverence in those who become conscious of it.

At the end of each chapter Goodenough includes a section titled “Reflections” in which she outlines the feelings that the chapters contents evoke for her. In many cases I did not identify with her feelings, but those cases in which did made the part of the exercise more than worthwhile.

I particularly liked here conclusion, in which she indicated that her reason for being is tied to evolutionary theory – the grand story of existence. She accepts as a give that life is good and should be preserved. That is of course perfectly aligned with our most basic biological drivers. She notes that this impulse causes her to try to understand the nature of our environment and what we need to do within it to get along better as a human race and preserve the biodiversity required for long term existence and enjoyment of all life as to offer. She notes the connection this approach causes her to feel to all life. She makes extensive use of words like “scared”, “spiritual”, “religious” while explaining her feelings. She notes that once we are well grounded in our place in nature, we can enjoy the art, emotion etc. that all religious traditions have to offer – their essential humanness.

I particularly like Goodenough’s reference to one of her father’s favorite metaphors. He was a professor of religions studies who had a conservative religious upbringing, but as life passed became more metaphoric in his understanding of religion. He said, “Life is like a coral reef. We each leave behind the best, the strongest deposit we can so that the reef can grow. But what’s important is the reef.”

I am content with my place in on the reef; to enjoy life’s miracle while it lasts; to learn to pay more attention to the tiny part of the miracle that is before me, moment to moment; and think much less about those parts of the future that are beyond my influence.

Two of the reviews I linked above noted that Goodenough’s approach is not like to be satisfying to many theists. I agree. However, for those of us who have found our religious traditions wanting, Goodenough offers a wonderful away to reframe the big picture so as to enjoy certain aspects of our past. I had reached most of the conclusions Goodenough and her colleagues put forward (you can find her group at places like and but needed some help to bring things into focus and then begin to think critically about and refine my intuitions. I am finding the tools to do that within this group.

I also note that some people who leave Mormonism retain more of theistic leanings than do I. I don’t say that this is necessarily a bad thing, as long as we do not give ourselves over to the same kind of magical thinking that Mormonism promoted. And I still have trouble finding the brakes on the bus as long as we are prepared to accept any kind of metaphysical conclusions without a measure of testability. For those people, what Goodenough offers may have less utility. For those who minds run along paths similar to mind, this is a goldmine.
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Sydney Ridgon And The Book Of Mormon
Friday, Jun 3, 2005, at 10:21 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
History is never certain. However, some things are far more certain than others. We have a pretty good idea, for example, as to the nature of most of the important facts related to the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb, and much less reliable information about Jesus Christ.

There is some evidence connecting Rigdon to the Smith family prior to 1830. Much of this relates to the treasure seeking community in which Smith (Jr. and Sr.) had some prominence. Ridgon appears to have moved in similar circles. This connection, however, is far from proven, and the origins of the BofM are likewise far from proven. However, there is a lot of data that has not been given much attention to date that in my view is helpful in forming opinions as to what appears most likely to have happened based on the evidence we have to work with. This is the usual case, by the way. We make most of our decisions based on incomplete evidence and the probabilities we (usually unconsciously) infer from it. You find people insisting on certainty when they (usually unconsciously) wish to resist the probabilities inferred by the evidence in front of them. They simply raise the bar high enough to ignore what disturbs them.

So, here is a synopsis of some of the data I am now reviewing.

There is a lot of evidence connecting Ridgon to Spaulding and his various manuscripts. The Spaulding story is usually panned by Mormon apologists because the only Spaulding manuscripts that survived bear little resemblance to the BofM. However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Spaulding has at least one other manuscript that did not survive, that this manuscript bore a striking resemblance to the Book of Mormon, and that it ended up in Ridgon's possession.

Ridgon was a Campbellite minister. Cambellite theology has a few unusual twists, and Ridgon had more of his own. Somehow, a lot of these ended up in the Book of Mormon.

It was commonly believed in Ridgon and Smith's time that the Native Americans were descendants of Israel. Ethan Smith's "View of the Hebrews" clearly indicates this. This view went back to shortly after the Americas were discovered. I read just the other day something from one of the early Spanish explorers of South America in which he expressed this view regarding the natives of Brazil. Hence, it would have been plausible to the common people of JS and Ridgon’s time that ancient Native Americans may have been sufficiently connected to the Israelite tradition to have kept sacred records similar to the Bible.

Rigdon was trying to reform the Campbellite movement. If an ancient record (like the Book of Mormon) could be found that supported his version of Christianity, this would aid his cause and "bring people to Christ". Since this was undeniably good, any ends leading to it must also be good.

This form of exerting influence over belief has a lengthy history. It is believed that significant parts of the Old and New Testament (and in particular, one of the major reforms to the Jewish people documented in the OT) was the result of just this type of "invention" of ancient documents or “psuedepigrapha”. This is also part of the even older "noble lie" tradition. That is, if a falsehood serves a sufficiently noble purpose, it is justified. This is a particularly common approach for certain types of leaders and is at the core of Mormonism’s odious “faithful history” and “lying for the Lord” traditions.

So, the idea is that Ridgon, with the best of intentions, cobbled together the Book of Mormon using primarily Spaulding’s lost manuscript, and adding ideas from Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, perhaps "The Golden Pot", and a few Smith family stories (such as the iron rod - tree of life - great and spacious building narrative, which JS's mother tells us is a vision received by Smith Sr.)

The theory suggests that Ridgon then fed the manuscript to JS after recruiting him to help him bring the book to life. JS was necessary since it would be too convenient if Ridgon himself found an ancient book that verified his views. If a known mystic like JS did it, however, Ridgon could simply point to the book and then use his influence to promote its views. He would support it, and it would support him. To make this work, while the book was coming into being and for a while thereafter, Ridgon had to remain in the shadows as far as JS and the BofM was concerned.

If this happened, it would make sense that JS and Rigdon would not take anyone else into their confidence. In fact, it would be essential to the well-intended con that those closest to Smith were utterly convinced of the reality of his story. Their innocent, utterly convinced, testimony would be critical to the success of the venture. Mormon missionary work to this day operates on the same principle. Convince the innocents and send them out to convince the rest. Many financial cons I have seen as a result of my legal practise operate on the same principle. I am short on time today and so won’t go into that.

Smith would have been selected by Rigdon because of Smith’s visionary history and his connection to find hidden, precious things. So, when Smith purported to find golden plates and produce a religious record, many people around him would be prepared to believe at least that he was sincere. Then, when Smith began to produce (for him) a remarkable stream of literature, it would attract attention and appear miraculous. And the record answered so many of the religious and social controversies of the day (always in favour of the Ridgon-Cambellite approach). And, JS had proven himself adept at putting on a great show. That is what the treasure seeking, glass looking scam required. And he was good at it. At noted above, it likely that this is how JS came to Ridgon’s attention and is what recommended him for this critical role in Ridgon’s plan.

This theory does not suggest that Ridgon and JS conspired to create a new religion and defraud the people. Rather, it suggests that Ridgon was trying to do what he felt was right in terms of promoting his version of the Christian faith, and JS (who was chronically short of money and opportunity at this point in his) was easily recruited to help Ridgon.

Then, things did not work out as Ridgon had hoped. His Campbellite ministry did not go well. And JS attracted a much larger crowd of his own than expected. Soon Ridgon was JS's right hand man, and really ran the show for a long time. And then (to Rigdon's surprise and chagrin, if the theory is correct) the bumpkin Smith developed a life of his own. He jumped the fence Ridgon had put around him (JS's role, received by "revelation" was initially limited to translating the BofM) and took control. He tried to punt Ridgon (this was approved in secret shortly before JS’s death by one of the clandestine quorums Smith ran in parallel to the apparently democratic public structure of the Mormon Church in those days, and a replacement counsellor for Smith was set apart in secret) but the cognoscenti could not push Ridgon’s dismissal through in the public church meeting, so he remained on board.

Then Smith died and Ridgon lost the well-publicized power struggle to BY.

This is what a scientist (and my friend who is doing this work is an excellent scientist) would call a “just so” story. That is, it plausibly explains the extant data, but stops far short of providing “proof” that the facts required to support the theory occurred.

Many scientific theories that are now accepted started as “just so” stories. The theory of evolution is one of them. A just so story can graduate to an accepted view of reality by being tested in various ways over a long period of time (as has evolutionary theory) and passing all tests. Time will tell with regard to the Ridgon theory.

Another important scientific principle is that when confronted with several “just so” stories to explain a given phenomenon, we should accept the one that provides the simplest, most probable explanation for the events in question based on the available evidence. When making decisions, this is what we instinctively do. In fact, a lot of excellent research has been done in the last several years (google “gerd gigerenzer” for example) as to how well humans function from a decision making point of view on the basis of amazingly little data.

I still have a ways to go in my review of the fascinating material summarized above. But at the moment, I do not hesitate to say that this is the most probable theory of those I have reviewed as to how the BofM came into existence.
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The Joy Of Determinism - The Old Freewill V. Determinism Debate
Tuesday, Jun 21, 2005, at 09:19 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
For this interested in the long story, see the thread at

The thread was started by the observation that a prominent scientist said at a recent conference that she found that ditching free will was itself immensely "freeing". That is, she felt that be adopting a deterministic mindset (that all of her actions were determined by a combination of her genes and prior experience) she did not beat herself up as she used to do.

This is a challenging idea that I think has merit. What follows are two posts I made to the thread.

All the best,

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Comparative Apologetics
Tuesday, Jun 21, 2005, at 11:42 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
One of the last barriers I had to jump on my way out of Mormonism might be called the "Smart Mormon" hurdle. As one approaches it, the hurdle looks like this:
  • There are so many really smart Mormons who believe Mormonism is "true".
  • The smart Mormons are much smarter and better educated than I am. They all have PhD's and most teach at BYU after all. And many of them have also been designated by God as his leaders. They are not only smart, but have greater powers of spiritual discernment than I have, as evidenced by their divine selection as Mormon leaders.
  • So, on what basis am I justified if I disagree with the "smart Mormons"? History and science are uncertain, after all. The safe thing to do - and the "smart" thing to do, is to reject my own conclusions in favor of those reached by the "smart" crowd.
This is the line of thinking that has been pushed by apologists of many stripes since time immemorial (see Click For Document) It can only be maintained if information, and hence perspective, is controlled by the apologists.

So, when one finally walks right up to the hurdle and starts to look at is carefully (see Click For Document) a variety of interesting things happen. The "smart" people are not so smart, for one thing. They are just regular people, some of whom are well qualfied in areas that have nothing to do with religion and so their opinions regarding religious matters are given more weight than is warranted. Richard Bushman and Davis Bitton are a prime examples of this type of person in my view. Many LDS general authorities are in the same camp. They have each been sucked in by different types of social conditioning to which their group has subjected them (including in some cases being "called" into a position of tremendous authority - nothing warps perception like power or the possibilty thereof) in the same way as have smart people within many other ideologies. And that, for me, was a key revelation - that there are innumerable smart people who at the same time believe some of the kookiest ideas on offer to be the literal truth.

Hence, one of the most useful exercises I went through while working through this phase of my collapsing Mormon belief was to visit the websites and chat rooms of many groups of apologists for non-Mormon ideologies. This helped me see the same kind of smart people using the same kinds of specious arguments as those with which I was confronted at FARMS and elsewhere in the Mormon world. I found it fascinating that in every case except my own (that is, re. Mormonsism) the use of cheap debating tricks, illogic, emotional obfuscation, etc. was obvious to me. Only in the case closest to my heart (that is, the Mormon case) where my own social conditioning was the deepest, did this kind of apologetic behaviour have any impact on me. This realization helped me to the conclusion that ideologies inculcated by thorough social conditioning create a form of mental pathology that functions to keep social groups together.

In the end, it simple. Evolution selects for people who are pre-disposed to the pathology just noted because throughout most of human history keeping the group together conferred greater survival and reproductive advantages than any individual "being right". If you were right, the group would eventually figure it out and it was more important that the group remain intact than you be right. So, our brains developed to tend to consciously acknoweledge the kind of realities that threatened group cohesion when most of the group was ready to come to the same conclusion.

Again, it is that simple. I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I think about this now.

In any event, I did not keep track of the various sites I visited as I went through the exercise just noted. I just got on Google and tracked a couple of them down. However, I suspect that others here have had similar experiences to the one I just described. I noted that Tal Bachman in a recent thread noted said he is familiar with some of these sites.

Perhaps those of you who have seen apologists for other ideologies in action and have found them similar to Mormon apologists could share some of your favorites with us. Here is my contribution to get the ball rolling. (Go to home page and poke around. There is some great stuff here.) All the best,

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Michael Quinn's Mormon Testimony
Monday, Jul 11, 2005, at 11:36 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I recently had the chance to spend some time chatting with Michael Quinn and thought some here might be interested in a brief report. I did not hear anything from him in private that he has not indicated in public, so I can tell you exactly what he said. And, by the way, the first thing I did upon meeting Quinn was thank him for the role he played in helping me out of Mormonism. His research put a number of key pieces of information in place for me. He is one of my heroes.

Some have suggested that Quinn's "attacks" against the Church are inconsistent with his current stance as a non-Mormon Mormon. Quinn does not perceive himself to have attacked the Church, but rather he was simply doing his job as a scholar with integrity. He is far better informed that I will ever be regarding where all the Mormon skeletons are buried.

Quinn has had spiritual experiences that from his point of view establish the "reality" of Smith's divine appointment in such a way that the evidence he has seen to the contrary is still insufficient to shake him. This includes the belief that the Book of Mormon was really translated by divine inspiration from real golden plates; that God's exclusive authority was given to Smith and passed on by him to Hinckley et al.; etc. The whole load.

Quinn indicated that he understands that his view is improbable - that most "objective" people who have simply reviewed the evidence re Smith would not agree with him. He again referred back to his personal, and admittedly subjective, experience.

I had expected Quinn to tell me that his beliefs were of the post Modern, metaphorical sort. Not the case. He is a literalist.

We discussed cognitive dissonance and other topics at some length. His comments in that regard can be found in a recent Sunstone magazine. He did not mention that article to me although the conversation occurred after the article was first published. I thought this a little odd once I found the article. It is, however, consistent with what I observed to be his understated nature.

Quinn understands what the literature says regarding cog dis and biases, understands that his behavior smacks of cog dis, and shrugs his shoulders. He chooses to give primacy to the spiritual experiences he has had and the conclusions they impressed upon him.

I reviewed my experience with him and the quite different conclusions I have reached. For the long story, see starting at page 77 and starting at page 39. He acknowledged the reasonableness of my approach, noted that there were many things about his position that were inconsistent, and indicated that his experiences were so compelling that he still felt justified in maintaining his beliefs.

I note that the experiences Quinn described to me as more real than real sound similar to what Newberg describes as a typical "mystical" experience that should be expected to give rise to powerful beliefs. See the "Out of My Faith" essay linked above for this discussion.

I found Quinn to be likeable, sincere and not surprisingly, very intelligent. I look forward to continuing to interact with him. I don't think he is playing a publicity game, as some have suggested. Rather, I think that given the abuse and pain he has suffered at the hands of Mormonism, his continued profession of belief is testament to the powerful nature of the experiences he has had. It would be interesting to know if he has a history consistent with minor epilepsy or other medical conditions that sometimes accompany apparent paranormal experiences. See, for example, McNally\ for a summary as to how certain types of sleep paralysis and hypnopompic hallucinations can produce physical symptoms related to alleged alien abductions stronger than those experienced by soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after war experiences.

In any event, there is no clear cut explanation for Michael Quinn. What is clear is that he always has been, and still is, a deeply spiritual person with a great deal of integrity. One does not have to agree with the conclusions he has drawn about Mormonism to hold that view.
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Mormon Polygamy And Apologetics - An Overview
Thursday, Jul 21, 2005, at 07:59 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
What follows is a question that was recently put to me, and my answer. Some may find it a useful big picture analysis of Mormon polygamy/polygyny.

All the best,


Dear Mr. Mccue,

My name is * and I live in **. I have been reading a little of the information on your web site. I am researching certain religions and Mormonism is one of them. The question I have for you, on the matter of polygyny, is if you know any references where either Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor or any of the other leaders of the FLDS were able to explain the contradiction between DandC section 132 and what is written in The Book of Mormon; Jacob 2:24 - 29, that is, if any of them were able to explain it at all. Thank you in advance for any information you can offer.

Hello *.

You might also reference Ether 10:5 and the language in the "Book of Commandments" (the precursor to the Doctrine and Covenants) at the time Smith and others were engaged in polygamy on the "con" side. That is, Mormon theology appeared to make it quite clear that polygamy (let alone polygyny) was not permitted.

On the "pro" side, see DandC 132: 37 and 38 which indicate that the Biblical patriarchs who had polygamous wives and concubines only sinned insofar as they entered into these relationships without God's permission. DandC 132 then goes on to, in effect, prescribe the same law for Mormons. The reference to the Biblical tradition rationalizes the Book of Mormon scriptures you noted, in my view, as long as you accept the premises that the Bible is an accurate account of God's dealings with mankind, as is the Book of Mormon. That is, Abraham et al clearly had many sexual relationships that were approved by God. That is where the twelve tribes of Israel come from, after all. And David clearly sinned by entering into a particular sexual relationship in circumstances of which God did not approve. The fact that God might give a woman already married to one man to another is not expressly addressed by either the relevant Book of Mormon scriptures or DandC 132. All that is made clear is that whatever God commands is OK.

The idea that was taught by Smith and early Mormon leaders to justify a married woman entering into “spiritual wifery” with a Mormon leader was that God’s law overrides temporal law (see the reference to “theocratic ethics” below), and that women have the right to “trade up” by leaving a less faithful husband for one with a better chance to offer them and their children access to the highest reaches of the Celestial Kingdom, subject of course to God approving the union in question. Since it was generally (if not exclusively) the case that Mormon leaders approached women to advise them of God’s will in this regard, the idea that a woman has the “option” to trade up is pretty thin in my view. Smith told some women that God had commanded both him and them to obey this command by way of sending an angel with drawn sword to advise Smith that both he and the woman in question would be destroyed if they did not obey.

In any event, the Biblical record, the Book of Mormon and DandC 132, in my view, all hang together rationally on the basis just indicated as long as you accept that God’s current word overrides both social mores and civil law and that Smith was the purveyor of God’s most recent word. In that case, both polygamy and polygyny as he ran them were OK. I think that you will find, generally speaking, that the Mormon apologists run down this line, and I am sure that there is plenty to be found from Mormon leaders to this effect. I have not read material from this genre in long enough, however, to be able to quote line and verse.

Now, to what is of greater interest to me. I note the obvious sexual access advantages this system created for the members of the Mormon leadership hierarchy from time to time as long as polygamy/polygyny was accepted as God’s will. I have found that the question we are told to ask while attempting to understand social behavior from an evolutionary perspective is helpful in this regard. That question is “who benefits” from the propagation of a particular idea or belief. When we find that the persons who benefit are those who are spreading the belief, it is frequently if not generally the case the case that they have not been willing or able to adequately test the belief’s legitimacy. This is precisely why the checks and balances within democracy are of crucial importance. Once in power, those who make the rules simply cannot be trusted. This is as close to a universal principle of human behavour as can be found. The behavior of Smith and other early Mormon leaders who clearly were trying to establish a theocracy is only one of countless examples that support this principle. And their behaviour with regard to the establishment and promotion of polygamy is a classic in this genre.

As noted above, the idea of God’s word overriding legal and moral constraints was critical to understanding much of what Smith did. I like Michael Quinn’s summary of this concept (see page 88 of his book "Mormon Hierarchy – The Origins of Power") as follows:

Smith remained aloof from civil office, but in November 1835 he announced a doctrine I call "theocratic ethics". He used this theology to justify his violation of Ohio's marriage laws by performing a marriage for Newel Knight and the undivorced Lydia Goldthwaithe without legal authority to do so... In addition to the bigamous character of this marriage, Smith had no license to perform marriages in Ohio.

Although that was the first statement of this concept, Smith and his associates put that theology into practice long before 1835, and long after. Two months later Smith performed marriage ceremonies for which neither he nor the couples had marriage licenses, and he issued marriage certificates "agreeable to the rules and regulations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Theocratic ethics justified LDS leaders and (by extension) regular Mormons in actions which were contrary to conventional ethics and sometimes in violation of criminal laws.

This ethical independence is essential for understanding certain seemingly inconsistent manifestations in Mormonism. Some had already occurred - reversals in doctrine and divinely revealed procedures, and the publication of unannounced changes in written revelations and historical texts. The Knight marriage was a public example of Joseph Smith's violation of laws and cultural norms regarding marriage and sexual behavior - the performance of civil marriages by legally unauthorized officiators, monogamous marriage ceremonies in which one or both partners were undivorced from legal spouses, polygamous marriage of a man with more than one living wife, his marriage proposals to females as young as twelve, his sexual relationships with polygamous wives as young as fourteen, polyandry of women with more than one husband, marriage and cohabitation with foster daughters, and Mormon marriages of first cousins, brother-sister, and uncle-niece. Other manifestations of Mormonism's theocratic ethics would soon begin in Kirkland and continue intermittently for decades - the official denials of actual events, the alternating condemnation and tolerance for counterfeiting and stealing from non-Mormons, threats and physical attacks against dissenters or other alleged enemies, the killing and castration of sex offenders, the killing of anti-Mormons, the bribery of government officials, and business ethics at odds with church standards. [end quote]

I cannot overemphasize how disgusted I was when I found out about Joseph Smith's sexual behaviour and the other practises just mentioned. The evidence I have reviewed is very clear to the effect that he used his position of authority to take advantage of many women, some of them married and others very young; all of them innocent believers in his divine mandate. And those who refused him often had their reputations besmirched and suffered in other ways as a result of doing what was right. You can imagine my surprise when I read psychological studies that, without mentioning Joseph Smith, described his profile (charismatic religious or other leader, etc.) and predicted that he would have trouble keeping his trousers up while in willing female company, and that as the alpha male of the group he led that he would not have trouble finding willing sexual consorts.

I note in passing that the language in DandC 132 that describes God as "giving" various women to various men is particularly offensive to modern sensibilities, but consistent with the mores of Biblical times if not Smith's day. This is also consistent with the manner in which Smith and other Mormon leaders propositioned many of the women who became their "spiritual wives". The women were notified, in effect, that it was God's will that they enter into a marital-like relationship with Smith or others. Smith used his approval over polygamous relationships to control those of his followers who were living the "principle", as it was called. That is, when some men attempted to form polygamous or polygynous relationships without Smith's approval, it appears that they were disciplined. One of these, John C. Bennett, became one of the first to leave Mormonism and attempt to "expose" it. See for a summary related to him. I note that in both primitive human social groups, modern religious cults and even certain animal groups, the ability of an alpha male to control sexual access to the females of the group is a powerful leadership tool used to maintain social hierarchy.

I doubt that Smith had multiple sexual partners in mind when he wrote (or collaborated in the writing of) the Book of Mormon. In my view, Mormon polygamy was simply the result of the alpha male (Smith) of a human social group (early Mormons) taking advantage of the traditional alpha male prerogative (lots of sexual partners). As word of his activities leaked out, the idea of divinely sanctioned polygamy was formed to prevent disaster (Smith losing control of his group on moral grounds) and Biblical precedent was used to justify that because it was available and useful in that regard.

It is probable, in my view, that the same sociological forces that led Smith to do what he did also governed the behavour of the Biblical patriarchs (if they indeed existed) as well as others of their day. And if you are the one who indicates which women have been "given" to you by God, there is not much chance of running afoul of God, is there? And if God is going to tell you which other men have women "given" to them, this will help you to stay in control of those men, won't it? DandC 132 appointed Smith to that office. So even though Smith did things similar to what got David in trouble ("do not plant seeds in another man's field", to quote an Amerindian "commandment" - this more is close to a human universal), that was OK with Smith's God. Smith, as you likely know, was married to and in all probability had sexual relations with women married to other men. In at least one case, he sent a Mormon man away on a mission for the Mormon Church, and then almost immediately propositioned the departed man's wife inthe manner just noted. I think that Mormon polygamy is likely a fascinating case of how one small thing (a religious leader having some illicit sex) can lead to something huge, like the entire social complex relating to Mormon polygamy, including the modern Mormon fundamentalists who continue to live a polygamous lifestyle and attract converts from mainstream Mormonism and people like me who are descendants of polygamous Mormons. This is the butterfly effect in a social context, in my view.

So, we have Smith in public and private for over a decade indicating the he was not engaged in polygamous activities (using Clintonesque language I might add, around the issue of what he was doing), and Mormonism's official rule book clearly indicating during that period that polygamy was not permitted. Then, when Smith finally had to go public with what he was doing because it was becoming so widely known, DandC 132 was presented as a revelation over ten years after Smith has started his polygamous, polyandrous, etc. affairs. This was justified on the basis that God had commanded Smith to lie because the people were not ready to hear about what he was doing. And during the time while the public and regular Mormons were being deceived as to Smith and other's sexual activities, as insiders became aware of what was going, God "revealed" to Smith that they were entitled to participate as well. This is classic "co-opting" behavior as described in social theory - if you turn those who might challenge you into "partners in crime" they will not challenge you. And a few insiders, such as Hyrum Smith, who for some reason did not wise up to what was going on remained on the outside and so continued until the end of the ten year+ piece just noted to publicly deny that there was any polygamy going on, and were not corrected by the leadership cadre by whom they were surrounded and with whom they associated daily, almost all of whom were actively engaged in polygamy. To have a few innocents like Hyrum categorically denying polygamy was of course helpful to the public's impression of reality. This is a tactic regularly used by fraud artists today. Innocents are recruited and purposely kept in the dark about what is going on while "selling" the fraud with the best of intentions based on their limited understanding of the facts. These innocents are crucially important megaphones and salespeople for those whose credibility on its own would not be adequate to pull off certain types of scams. The most trustworthy and innocent the megaphone, the more effective it is. The innocent young and old people who conduct today's Mormon missionary work, most local Mormon leaders (who are generally well intentioned, moral, wonderful people) and some of its highest leaders, are in my view innocent dupes of this type.

The period related to early Mormon polygamy is one of the darkest chapters in Mormon history, in my view. I recommend that you read Compton's book "In Sacred Loneliness" and Von Wagoner's "Mormon Polygamy: A History" if you have a serious interest in the topic.

Now, I must confess that I am not as expert with regard to LDS history as many people are. I invite you to ask your question, and send of copy of what is above, to * at **. * knows more Mormon history than do I. He is an active member of the LDS church and well-known in its "apologetic" community. While he and I disagree regarding many things, we carry on a respectful dialogue and I have generally found his ability to put his hands on the "facts" (such as is possible in historical analysis in any event) to be reliable and so would commend him to you. He and I will, no doubt, draw different conclusions from facts on which we are likely to agree for the most part at least. He can be counted on to give you a side of the story that I am not likely to either see or find persuasive. And you deserve to have access to both sides of this story.

Since I encourage you to hear the Mormon side of this story, I should also quickly say something about apologetics in general. This is tied into the power of narratives to build social fabric, and the power of social fabric to make us believe certain things are real and others are not, regardless of what reality ultimately turns out to be. I have cut and pasted what follows from other things I have written, with a few modifications.

As today’s nuerologists have pointed out (see for example Quartz and Sejnowski, “Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are”), our brains are formatted to a significant extent by the physical and social environment in which we exist during our developmental years (up to early adulthood). For example, cats raised from birth in a room without vertical lines walked into table legs when released into the "real" world, and their patterns of brain activity were consistent with those legs not being visible. Their brains, conditioned by their environment, could not perceive the vertical plane. Similar data of a less formal basis has been collected regarding pygmies led out of the forest for the first time who were incapable of grasping the significance of animals grazing on a plain hundreds of yards away. Such distances were not part of their world. Their brains had no context within which to make sense out of their perceptions. They thought they were seeing miniatureanimals.

The most authoritative storytellers recognized by our particular social group provide much of the material around which our brains are formatted. The story about the manner in which God did (or did not) confer supernatural powers on Joseph Smith in order to bring the Book of Mormon into being is a good example of a powerful story of this type. In the contemporary Mormon community, this story ironically coexists with many others that are mostly scientific in orientation.

This brings us to the concept of “premises”. Premises are a group's "givens"; their wallpaper; and most importantly, the ideas that if accepted render the rest of their belief system “sensible”. For example, IF God did confer on Joseph Smith the power to “translate” the Book of Mormon, then it is logical to believe that the many stories Smith told of angelic visitations and other special authorities he received from God were also true, including his stories about being told by God both to have sex with multiple women (some of whom were married to other men) and to deceive both the public and members of his church about what he was doing.

So, premises relate to what a group deems "sacred" - that is, beliefs so important that they should not be questioned and so are protected by all of the taboos the group can muster. In the contemporary western world, democracy and "equal" (in some hard-to-define sense) human rights are sacred in this sense. Belief systems as diverse as those of primitive people, Catholicism, Scientology, Marxist Communism, representative democracy, etc. can be boiled down to a few “premises” which if accepted, render most of the rest of the belief system “logical”.

The nature of premises is nicely illustrated by an account an anthropologist gave respecting a visit he made to Artic to study the Inuit (see Ehrlich, “Human Natures”). He first met with a Catholic priest who had recently arrived in the Inuit community. The priest told him about the natives’ belief system, how crude and silly it was, how it involved the spirits of ancestors and animals playing a role in daily life, etc. Then the anthropologist went over to see the Inuit. When he asked how they were getting along with the priest, he was told that the priest was a nice enough fellow, but had some outlandish beliefs. They then proceeded to laugh so hard they fell over while describing the story of the virgin birth. The Inuit could not believe that a person of obvious sophistication and wisdom, like the priest, could believe something as ridiculous as that. Such is the nature of our most important premises – they are pounded so deep into our cultural and psychological background that they are immune from critiqueand hence often bizarre when considered by anyone who considers them in the rational way a cultural outsider would tend to use.

The function of the stories told by a group’s storytellers is, for the most part, to so thoroughly engrain the basic premises of a belief system that they pass into the realm of the “sacred”, and so beyond questioning, in the fashion just described.

Sacred beliefs, as noted above, are protected by taboos, and again the role of the storytellers is of critical importance in creating the perception of reality that gives strength to a taboo. For example, Mormons believe that terrible things happen to a Mormon who “loses his testimony”. These include not being able to be with his family after death, often going through divorce and estrangement from family members and close friends during this life, and in general, losing the “joy” that comes only from being a faithful Mormon. Similar beliefs are found in countless other communities from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, to certain Muslim, Jewish and other groups.

So, when a person is confronted with evidence that questions the validity of an important belief her adrenalin system fires up. The stronger the taboo, the stronger this response. In primitive societies, the breach of many such taboos meant death. Our instincts still appear to be wired on this basis because of the lengthy period of time during which our ancestors lived this way. And it is well documented that a firing adrenalin system interferes with our ability to engage in certain types of critical reasoning. Rather, we tend toward conservative behaviour. Sources of perceived danger, in particular, are avoided instead of examined. And so any source of evidence that questions a fundamentally important belief tends to be avoided.

It is also interesting to note a clearly defined pattern created by the generally scientific nature of modern society and the various sacred and often supernatural premises of various religious groups. For example, Mormons and most members of almost all other faiths except the Jehovah’s Witnesses, reject the supernaturalism related to JW beliefs – the sacred JW premises. Conversely, JWs side with the members of virtually all other faiths in rejecting the supernatural claims that support Mormon beliefs. The pattern is that religious people tend to be scientific in orientation with regard to all beliefs except those required to support the premises of their particular belief system. So, when they enter the arena defined by their own religious beliefs they become, from the perspective of all outsiders, “irrational”. The same pattern is visible to a lesser degree (in most cases) when it comes to issues related to politics, economics, environmentalism, and other issues that are hard to definitively analyse and charged with emotion.

Evolutionary theory has an elegant explanation for this pattern. That is, evolution selects for people who are pre-disposed to not "falsifying" the myths on which their society is based while being able to do so with regard to myths on which other social groups are based. This strengthens the "in group" ideology and weakens all "out group" ideologies. This makes sense because throughout most of human history keeping one's group together likely conferred greater survival and reproductive advantages than any individual "finding the truth" etc. So, our brains developed to tend toward conscious acknowledgement of the kind of realities that threatened group cohesion only when most of our "in group" was ready to come to the same conclusion, hence reducing pressure on group stability to manageable levels.

“Biases” and “cognitive dissonance” play important roles in the psychological matrix that reduces the likelihood that sacred beliefs will be questioned. For example, once we have made up our minds about something and held the opinion for some time, we are biased in favor of not changing our minds. This is called “confirmation bias.” Some psychologists believe that it alone is responsible for more faulty human decisions than any other human foible. Another bias is “authority bias” where we unconsciously screen information that may bring us into conflict with our social group or other sources of power (see Aronson, “The Social Animal” and Shermer, “Why People Believe Weird Things”). Those youngsters in primitive times who failed to pay attention to their elders faced a higher probability of death and removal of their genes from the gene pool. Evolution thus selected for deference to authority and to the expectations of one’s social groups. This form of bias explains why members of religious groups are able to identify illogical beliefs in other religious groups but not their own.

A cognition is a piece of knowledge about an attitude, an emotion, a behaviour, a value, etc. Two cognitions are said to be dissonant (thus producing “cognitive dissonance”) if one cognition conflicts with another. For example, I like my friend, and trust him. Various cognitions relate to this. If I find out that my friend has lied to me, other cognitions form that are dissonant with those I already hold. Cognitive dissonance is the term used to describe the resulting unpleasant mental state, which most humans immediately attempt to relieve themselves of much as they look for water when thirsty.

If two cognitions are dissonant, we tend to change one or both to make them consistent with each other. This often results in what is sometimes called “denial” – the suppression or unrealistic appraisal of evidence in an effort to reduce cognitive dissonance. Denial is, by definition, invisible to the person or group that is subject to it, but often easily visible to outsiders. The pattern I noted above of insiders being “irrational” but only with regard to beliefs and evidence related to the most sacred belief, suggests the widespread denial caused by cognitive dissonance. Another well known example of cognitive dissonance induced denial is that of the wife who husband is “cheating” on her, and while many friends and family have seen enough evidence to feel fairly confident that they understand what is going on, the faithful wife refuses to acknowledge the possibility even when the evidence is placed before her by well meaning friends. In this case, the dissonant cognitions are between the man who expresseshis love for her, and her dependence on him in various ways as a result of the life they have built together, and the evidence that suggests that that same man is being sexually unfaithful to her. The more she fears the consequence of the second cognition, the blinder she is likely to be to evidence supporting it.

I visualize the process of overcoming cognitive dissonance as an old fashioned set of scales, like the scales of justice. Disconfirming experience and evidence has to be piled on the side of our scales opposite sacred belief until they begin to tip. That is, we have to experience enough cognitive dissonance to make us finally question the reality we have assumed to exist. The epiphany experience many people have as they leave a controlling religious faith is related to what happens when we reach the "tipping point" on our scale. Then, suddenly, it is as if a switch were thrown and we can see all kinds of things that have been building up just out of view as a result of the work our mind has been doing to keep us in denial. Suddenly, much of this information and insight is released into the conscious mind because the unconscious can no longer hold it back. It is as if the lights suddenly came on. This experience changes many people irrevocably and, apparently, suddenly. However, it is often the effect of manyyears of accumulating information and work done by the unconscious mind to prepare us for an epiphany that would otherwise have been too much for our minds to bear.

The way in which storytelling and the unquestionable, or even invisible, premises they create control our perception of reality has helped me to understand my inability for many adult years to "see" things that are now so obvious about Mormonism and the Book of Mormon. I was like the cats raised who could not see table legs or the pygmies who thought animals grazing on a distant plain were seeing miniature animals. I was in denial as a result of cognitive dissonance related to the image of Joseph Smith as a humble, inspired prophet of God on which I had been raised from childhood.

When Joseph Smith declared the Book of Mormon the “keystone of our religion”, he said much more than he knew. He, without knowing it, invoked all I have just summarized and much more. And at the base of this lies the power of narrative which he well understood as a result of his history as a treasure seeker, as describe more fully below.

It is my view that Joseph Smith understood that his narrative of the Book of Mormon’s divine origins would, if accepted, give him the right to speak with God’s voice as far as all who believed him were concerned. That is, his narrative of how the Book of Mormon came into being would give him tremendous personal power. The modern Mormon leadership understands that as well. They have inherited Joseph Smith’s power, and amplified it in many ways by the selective telling of his story. Their power depends directly how many people believe the story they now tell about Joseph Smith and how the Book of Mormon came into being.

Scientific and historical inquiry largely related to pattern identification. Each piece of evidence or data either fits, or does not, into a particular pattern. Patterns are expressed as hypotheses, such as “the Book of Mormon is real history” or “Joseph Smith was authorized by God to speak on His behalf”. The objective of the scientist or historian is to uncover as much evidence as possible relevant to a hypothesis, and assess whether the pattern disclosed by the evidence matches, or does not match, the hypothesis. The role of the confirmation bias, authority bias, other biases, and cognitive dissonance have been extensively studied in the scientific and historian communities, and are shown to exert powerful distorting influences there. Hence, the reliance on peer review and other communal mechanism within the scientific and historian communities that over time are believed to be out best bet at cancelling out these distortions that afflict all individual humans.

People who feel impelled to “prove” that their group is “right” or has “the truth” (often called “apologists”) tend to start with a hypothesis that says that a certain pattern (or hypothesis, such as the two set out above) must be “true”, and then look for evidence to support their position. Every ideology with which I am familiar has its apologists. Think for example of the Holocuast deniers, communists, all religionists, various breeds of economist, various breeds of ecologist, etc.

I have found books like Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things", Taleb's "Fooled by Randomness" and Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World", to be helpful in understanding the apologetic mindset in general. In particular, Shermer's final chapter in the second edition of his book ("Why Smart People Believe Weird Things") is insightful when it comes to understanding the smartest or best credentialed of the apologists. You can find, for example, very smart and well educated holocaust deniers, young earth creationists, JWs, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, etc.

In a nutshell, if you are working with a large enough database, you can find bits and pieces of information to support almost any conclusion you wish to draw. Shermer and Taleb both cite great examples in this regard. This is one of the traps laid for us by "deductive" reasoning. Deductive reasoning causes us to work from a hypothesis ("The Book of Mormon is real history") back into the data to see if we can prove or disprove the hypothesis. If we are influenced by things like the confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance etc., we will tend to find data that confirms the hypothesis, and miss or dismiss the disconfirming data.

Inductive reasoning, on the other hand, involves starting without a hypothesis, digesting as much relevant data as possible and seeing what kind of picture emerges. Most science and history related to complex questions (such as why any particular human culture is as it is) start out using induction, and then forms and begins to test hypotheses using deductive reasoning, and from there on goes back and forth between the two. Apologists tend to remain in deductive mode, looking for any data that might support their cherished hypotheses, the hypotheses that "must be true" in order for their social world to continue to exist.

A common tactic of apologists since at least the ancient Greeks (see for example is to emphasize the uncertainty of all “knowledge” and then to insist that, for really important things like religious beliefs, a high level of certainty is required before a change in belief is warranted. They hence set the bar of proof so high that practically speaking it is impossible to clear.

I do not suggest that all I have just written about apologists applies to *, but some surely does as it does to me on the other side of the coin. We are all best off acknowledging that we are subject to biases, cognitive dissonance etc. and relying heavily on the most “objective” sources to which we have access particularly when dealing with issues that fire up the emotional centers in our brain, such as evidence that questions our most basic religious and social beliefs. In that regard, the conclusions of non-Mormon scholars with regard to questions relating to science and history critical to Mormon foundations is most likely the most reliable you can find. Mormons would admit this to be the case with regard to every religion except their own, and would tend to dismiss any criticism of their faith by outsiders on the basis that one can only understand through faith. Not coincidentally, this is a near universal pattern among religious believers of all faiths when defending their own beliefs.

In any event, I wish you well in your research.

All the best,

topic image
Review Of Michael Ruse's Mysteries Of Mysteries - Is Evolution A Social Construction?
Wednesday, Jul 27, 2005, at 09:12 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Review of Michael Ruse’s “Mysteries of Mysteries - Is Evolution a Social Construction?”
bob mccue
July 26, 2005

A friend asked some time ago that I write a review of Michael Ruse’s (“Michael”) book “Mysteries of Mysteries - Is Evolution a Social Construction?” (“Mystery”) and post it to a science list on which we both participate. Here is it for those here who are interested in this kind of thing.

I should first confess my biases. I am a realist. However, I am acutely aware of the human tendency toward feeling certain of our conclusions, and how the influence of our dominant social group pervades our perceptions of reality. Hence, while I believe there is a reality “out there”, I am circumspect regarding our ability to pin it down. I am also a pragmatist. We make decisions moment by moment mostly on the basis of an amazingly efficient set of heuristics (see for example, We are also subject to powerful biases, many of them related to the group influence just noted. So, I think it important to keep the idea that I don’t know for sure what is real. This is my best bet to keep myself as free from things like the confirmation bias (see and authority bias and other group based influences over my perceptions as possible, while trying to collect as much information as possible about what is “real” and make my decisions on that basis using probability theory. Michael is also a realist with pragmatist leanings (from what I could tell) similar to my own. Not surprisingly, I both liked his book and found it helpful.

For the same reasons as I set out my biases so that those who read this will understand where they may wish to discount me, I did a little background reading regarding Michael so that I might have an idea of his biases before reading Mystery. See for an example of what I found. It is a review of another of Michael’s books titled “Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?: The Relationship between Science and Religion” in which Michael attempts to rationalize what sounds from the above review like an unusual form of Christian belief with a form of evolutionary theory. While I have not read that book, I doubt that Michael and I would agree in this area. I tend to side with people like Joseph Campbell and Karen Armstrong in believing that most literalist religious beliefs do more harm than good, while accepting that most religious beliefs when taken metaphorically can be useful. However, this is the kind of thing I will look forward to chatting with Michael about at Star. I tend to learn the most from those well-informed folk with whom I disagree.

In any event, my perspective is likely to be different with regard to Mystery than that of many who read here. This is because my scientific senses are still at a relatively immature level, and my knowledge of the history of science is in a similar state.

Finally, I should confess that I have not finished the book. I have about 50 pages left, and while traveling this weekend left the book in a hotel. It will arrive back in time for my trip to Star Island, but not in time to finish this review, so I will send this off without the benefit of reading Michael’s conclusion. I will be interested to see how it squares with what I have inferred so far.

Michael’s stated objective is to analyze the scientific and social content of the work done by the leading evolutionary theorists from the beginning of evolutionary theory up to date of publication, which was 1999. He does this by defining what he means by scientific content. This included things like consistency, predictive quality, ability to open new research paradigms, etc. I found this analytical framework helpful.

Michael then moved on to show how social values tend to creep into scientific thought. In that regard, he sketched the background of the realism v. social constructionism by summarizing Sokal’s Hoax, and then Karl Popper’s and Thomas Kuhn’s theories and tying them into some interesting personal background. Because of its brevity, this summary is inadequate to give a sense of the complexity of the issues covered. I am not critical of Michael in this regard. One can only do so in the set up of a 320-page book. The best single book I have read regarding the epistemic background against which Michael writes is Peter Godfrey-Smith’s “Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science”. And this only hits the high points of a bogglingly complex part of epistemology. For someone at my stage of understanding, the analysis Michael supplies of evolutionary theory and its history becomes much more useful when set against the theoretical background of Godfrey Smith’s book or something like it than it would be on its own.

For example, I found Godfrey-Smith’s analysis of Bayesian probability theory as a backdrop to Popperian analysis particularly useful. Popper is a realist who posited that we are progressing toward a better understanding of reality through the collective scientific enterprise. Bayesian probability theory supports this notion. However, Godfrey-Smith does a good job of showing how the foundations of probability theory must be assumed or inferred to be correct, and that this analysis can be shown to be circular. This reminded me of the reading I have done relative to Godel’s incompleteness theorems (see Rebecca Goldstein, “Incompleteness” for example. She has an interesting interview up at When we get down to the basics tenets of even math, we find that the bottom of the pool is elusive. And yet by continuously expanding the range things we can use to predict future states, on the basis primarily of Bayesian probabilities applied to empirical data, we continue to create technologies that bring more of what we perceive to be reality under our control. At bottom, despite our inability to ever put a pin in where we are through the use of probability theory or anything else, this approach seems to come closest to justifying the Popperian view.

At the same time, it seems clear that there are surprising shifts in “paradigm” that from time to time occur within the scientific community. These are consistent with the less probable future outcomes predicted by Bayesian theory prior to existence of the evidence on the basis of which a paradigm shift occurs. Hence, in my view, probability theory works to synthesize at least some of Kuhn’s views with a kind of Popperian analysis.

Michael proceeds to focus on biological evolution, and to review the theories related to it that have been put forward by a variety of scientific luminaries starting with Eramus Darwin (Charles’ grandfather), moving up through people like Steve Gould, Dick Lewontin and E.O. Wilson, and concluding with contemporary scientists like Geoff Parker. He added interesting background information with regard to each scientist, and used that to allege a correlation between his scientific work and social context. In each case, I learned something about the history of science and saw how difficult it was in many cases to tease apart scientific theory and personal biases.

Michael’s analysis of values that were imbedded in science, and “metavalues” (values about how science works) was for me particularly useful. For example, he showed how Julian Huxley’s Victorian progressionism was imbedded in his science. And on the other hand, he showed how other more recent scientists had similar values, but did not allow them to enter the scientific equation in the same way as did Huxley, and how this resulted in a basically different epistemic paradigm. And I note as an aside how interested I was in Michael’s discussion of the Victorian “progress” paradigm and how it influenced the development of evolutionary theory as a social construct. Mormonism (my inherited belief system) formed in a Victorian environment around the time Eramus and Charles Darwin did their thinking, and the idea of the “eternal progress” of each human being is central to Mormon theology. While I was aware of how progress oriented the Victorian era was, for some reason I had not put 2 + 2 together on this point until reading Michael’s summary of the period and how it influenced (and still influences to a degree) evolutionary thought. Here is an online summary of certain aspects of this idea that I add primarily for my own purposes -

Another crucial distinction Michael made that I found helpful was between the content of the “professional” and “popular” publishing of the various scientists whose work he reviewed. He attempted to demonstrate that some were much better than others at sticking to science when writing professionally and restricting their value-laden views to popular publications. And, the pattern to which Michael clearly pointed was that as time has passed, the leading popularizers of science have become increasingly better at doing science at the highest professional levels and restricting their culture laden views to literature that does not purport to meet professional scientific standards. I will return to this concept below. It is one that left what may be my most lasting impression of Mystery.

The value laden views that Michael attributed to various scientists often amounted to just so stories of marginal scientific value, some of which now look quite foolish, that Michael felt he could trace to cultural influences. I do not know enough scientific history to critique the connection Michael posited between Lewontin’s Jewishness, Wilson’s WASP Southernness, etc. and how those influences may have affected their science. But right or wrong, by presenting his analysis as he did, Michael showed how it is reasonable to conclude that it is very difficult for any of us to be completely objective, try as we might, and how engrained our biases are likely to be in our worldview. This was for me the interesting part of the analysis – how intertwined the cultural and the scientific could become.

While Michael did not focus on this point, one of the messages that came through to me (which Godfrey-Smith did emphasize) is that the best way to deal with the objectivity issue is to use as many perspectives as possible so that our biases are likely to set each other off. I am reading Phillip Ball’s “Critical Mass” at the moment as I wait for Mystery to return by mail. The role of the law of large numbers in social contexts is the main theme of that book. I don’t think Ball addresses the issue of scientific epistemology per se, but I can see how what he says about some other things would apply in this regard.

Since reading Mystery, I have round myself more sensitive to social constructs in the views expressed by others regarding science as well as in my own thought. I consider this to be a step forward, and yet another reason to be more humble about what I think I “know”. We all seem to need regular reminders of our bounded our perceptions of reality are, and Michael provided that nicely in my case.

Those who favour Kuhnian thinking may not find Mystery as helpful as I did. For example, Margaret Wertheim writing for Salon has this to say:

"In the end Ruse wants to have his cake and eat it, too: He sees evolutionary theory as essentially objective, but with an overlay of metaphorical subjectivity. Not everyone will feel satisfied with this resolution, but it is a heartening testimony to our times that this avowed champion of Sokal is at least prepared to acknowledge that the other side is not entirely wrong."

As noted above, it is my view that probability theory at least partly reconciles the Popperian and Kuhnian (at least the soft Kuhnian) perspectives. Some of Kuhn’s more difficult to understand and/or radical, relativist ideas and those of the entire radical side of the postmodern school are, in my view, silly enough to simply dismiss. Their important point was that we should be prepared to be wrong, and that it is useful to “deconstruct” our social contexts in an effort to immunize ourselves against powerful group influences. As the postmodernists pass into a paralyzing relativism, they become a kind of dangerous nonsense that I do not take seriously. I like what Susan Haack has to say about what might be called the “silly side” of postmodern scholarship. See and for example.

And I note that arguably one climbs to near the pinnacle of irony to watch religious scholars of any ilk attempt to “deconstruct” the “metanarratives” of things like history and science in defense of their dogmatic religious beliefs, while turning back flips to justify not using the same tools to question the premises of their belief system. This is all the more fun if the beliefs in question include the idea that their group alone has a corner on truth. This has all been the case within the Mormon academic community.

Michael’s focus on some of the most prominent popularizers of science, and his indication of their relative standing in the scientific community, made me think of something else that has been on my mind for a while. That is, why are some scientists willing to go over the line into “culture laden” issues that are not subject to the same strict epistemic norms as is professional scientific work, while most are not? And what kind of role will society tend to permit the scientists to play who take it upon themselves to create culture? Since these ideas are also relevant here, I will discuss them briefly in the context of Mystery.

I recently found some thought provoking material related to these issues in a PhD thesis written at Cornell by, of all people, Greg Graffin, the lead singer of the punk rock group "Bad Religion". Graffin is a bona fide biologist - anthropologist and did some useful work for his thesis in the form of a series of interviews with some of the greatest living biologists about their belief (or lack thereof) in god, and how those beliefs can be reconciled to the theory of evolution. He was following up on earlier studies that are reviewed in "How We Believe" by Shermer. Those studies found that a surprising large percentage of scientists believe in a god of some kind. However, the more respected the scientist, the less likely such a belief as to be found. Graffin refined and updated the study by focusing on biologists (including geneticists), making the survey questionnaire more comprehensive, and (as already noted) by conducting detailed interviews with about a dozen of the most respected of the group. The interviews are published in full in an appendix to the thesis and were the most interesting part. This work was done in 2004. See

During his interviews Graffin invited his subjects to speculate as to how evolutionary theory might become a kind of religion or analogous social force. I was surprised at how dead to this issue most of his interviewees seemed. They seemed not so much to be reluctant to step out of the strict rules of scientific enquiry, as unaware that this might be a possibility. Michael’s review of the history of evolutionary theory was enlightening to me in that regard. The way in which people like Lewontin and Wilson, for example, have gone at each other and the furor other scientists who have stepped into the cultural ring have created should be expected to warn all but the most adventuresome scientists.

This made me start to think about why the few scientists who are willing to speak in terms of values are received with so much enthusiasm in some quarters and rancor in others. And indeed, why the public should pay any more attention to scientists once they stray outside their professional field than to anyone else who has demonstrated expertise in any field of human endeavour. Graffin’s interviews demonstrated that those scientists who had a belief in god often backed this up with naïve views. That is, once the basis for their belief was disclosed, it was not more compelling than the basis for belief that someone like Tom Cruise might express. Michael shed more light on this issue by chronicling the manner in which the religious beliefs of a number of prominent scientists influenced their work.

The point Michael helped to bring into focus for me is that scientists are not per se any more worth listening to with regard to religion, values or cultural issues than anyone else, unless questions about which they speak fall within the professional expertise of the scientist in question. And we know that by their nature, sociology, anthropology etc. do not admit of the kind of epistemic rigor as does biology of physics. So, why are the views of biologists, physicists etc. given the credence they are with regard to these matters? Think of Einstein and Feynman, for example. Or more recently, Dawkins.

In my view, science has become a kind of de facto religion or mythology. And so prominent scientists are those whom an increasing percentage of the population in most of the developed world (except perhaps in the US) trust to describe the most important aspects of reality. This trust, however, is based on the professional side of science that Michael was careful to distinguish from the very kind of popular scientific writing that tends to be culture laden. I do not believe that many people (like me) who are powerfully influenced by the writings of respected scientists realize the extent to which our respect for the professional scientific enterprise as a whole may cause us to tend to accept the values of science popularizers based on just so stories that they themselves would never put forward for serious scientific consideration in professional journals.

So, people like Dawkins are not necessarily leading scientists. The role of the popularizer is a specialized niche that requires a certain amount of scientific credibility but more than that, an entertainer’s flair. Michael Shermer fits this bill, while being perhaps a little short on the respect of his academic peers. He does, however, put on a great show, writes easy to read books and has a flair self-promotion. This is perhaps why Lewontin savaged Pinker in Graffin’s thesis. Pinker, according to Lewontin, is a [expletive] upstart shooting his mouth off about all kinds of [expletive] stuff that he knows [expletive] nothing about. But, Pinker writes gripping books, also has a flair for self-promotion and exhibits Wilson’s tendency to extrapolate theories ahead of data. Lewontin is much more conservative in his epistemic approach, and it rankles him to see popular “science” writing that falls far below what he considers to be science’s minimum epistemic standards.

The paradox just noted will likely be what I chew on for the longest as a result of reading Mystery.

So, where does that leave us in terms of scientists who are inclined to create culture and posit values and by definition must be culture laden?

For my part, I am happy to accept scientists who incline toward the spiritual or value aspect of life as my high priests. I will not follow and obey them, but rather accept the basic epistemic paradigms of science as I listen to as many voices as I can while trying to learn to hear my own, or perhaps allowing my own to emerge from what I hear as it resonates with my biology and history. So, I will encourage those scientifically oriented within my small sphere of influence to speak out about what they value, and why. Michael sensitized me, however, to the line between professional and popular science and the just so, non-scientific concepts that are often unwitting passed off and accepted as science in the popular press. When we are making a value choice that is culture laden, we should address that issue instead of bowing to what we think is the best available science on some point.

I also wondered how long it will be before we see a greater integration between some of our science popularizers and our culture’s best story tellers. Think of Joseph Campbell’s long collaboration with George Lucas. Or how about The Matrix and what it attempted to do with regard to certain basic philosophy concepts. It is only a matter of time before we see science being pitched in this fashion. I think that this could be a wonderful thing, and expect also that the promoter of the ID project (for example) will realize an opportunity to push their agenda through this means.

I am now out of stream. To provide some additional context for Mystery, I have attached links and text below of several online reviews.

Best regards,


Published in University of Toronto Quarterly - Volume 70 Number 1, Winter 2000/01- Letters in Canada.

To see more articles and book reviews from this and other journals visit UTPJOURNALS online at

Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?

Michael Ruse.Harvard University Press. xii, 298. $42.50

Reviewed in University of Toronto Quarterly by JAMES ROBERT BROWN

This extremely readable and interesting book is about the nature of science. Do scientists give us a disinterested and objective account of the world? Or do they somehow concoct theories which perhaps serve their interests and reflect their subjective values? Michael Ruse says a bit of each, but he mainly sides with the angels of objectivity. And he is surely right to do so.

The real trick is showing how subjective values interact with the objective pursuit of knowledge. This Ruse does astutely through the device of individual case studies. Key figures in the history of evolutionary biology are given individual chapters in which their personal biographies and scientific views are discussed in an integrated way. Naturally, Darwin and Huxley are here, but so are a large number of moderns including Dawkins, Gould, Lewontin, and Wilson. As well as the ten individual biologists covered (the others are Erasmus Darwin, Julian Huxley, Dobzhansky, Parker, and Sepkoski), there is a beginning chapter on the philosophy of science (Kuhn vs Popper) and a final chapter on metaphors and metavalues.

Stephen Jay Gould, to pick one of Ruse's examples, is well known as a popularizer of the biological sciences; indeed, he is one of the great essayists of our times. Gould is also well known for his theory of punctuated equilibria. This is (depending on whom you hear it from) a genuine rival to Darwinian evolution or a mere supplement to it. Gould claims that there are significant rapid changes in the history of species often brought about by major environmental change (think of comets and dinosaurs) or by having part of a population cut off from the rest (known as the founder principle). Instead of Darwinian gradualism, Gould sees short periods of rapid change followed by long periods of stasis. What has this to do with values? According to Ruse, plenty. For one thing, Gould is interested in upgrading his own cherished discipline of paleontology. Instead of taking their marching orders from geneticists, the fossil folks can lead the way. Second, Gould has a Marxist background, and punctuated equilibria fit in nicely with a picture of history highlighted by revolutions. Third, the Darwinian gradualism which he opposes is tied to the so-called adaptationist program of sociobiology, a theory which tries to account for all human characteristics and behaviours in biologically adaptive terms. Gould, perhaps because of his Jewishness and his socialism, sees human differences as more the result of culture and environment than of nature.

These, according to Ruse, are the kinds of values that can play a role in the thinking of a scientist. But do they determine scientific outcomes? Did they determine the outcome for Gould? There is a classic distinction philosophers make between `discovery' (having an idea in the first place) and `justification' (having objective evidence for accepting it). In a pinch we could say that Gould's values contributed to the former, but played no role in the latter. Ruse notes that the scientific community has paid scant attention to punctuated equilibria. So he concludes that Gould's values did not contribute to the course of evolutionary thinking.

By contrast, the values of E.O. Wilson (who had a southern Baptist and military background which led to strong views about sex roles) have found their highly influential way into sociobiology. Ruse, however, sharply separates the `real' science from `popularizations' and claims that Wilson allows his various values only into the popular realm. When it comes to real science, traditional epistemic values such as prediction, explanatory scope, and so on carry the day for Wilson and for the scientific community at large.

Ruse's principal conclusion is that science is largely an objective enterprise. Scientists are rife with subjective values and these values play a role in motivating scientific work. They also play a role in popularizations. But in real science objective epistemic values come to the fore. Messy though it is, science is an objective process.

Like all of Ruse's earlier books, this one is a pleasure to peruse. (Thanks to a lack of support for our universities, Canada is losing many of its top academics. Wouldn't it be a pity of we were to lose our best philosopher-historian of biology?) Charmingly irreverent and opinionated, gracefully witty and informative, Mystery of Mysteries is a great read, for professional and public alike.

The Social Construction Blues

Sanford Pinsker

The Social Construction of What?
By Ian Hacking.
Harvard University Press.

Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?
By Michael Ruse.
Harvard University Press.

Let me begin with a confession: I am one of those old-fashioned sorts who associates the scientific method with scrupulously objective observation, the rigorous testing of hypotheses, and explanations of the natural world that are as precise (and, yes, true) as they are often poetic. No doubt my admiration for scientists who engage in the slow, demanding work of laboratory experimentation springs from a sense (confirmed by a wide range of teachers) that I possessed a world-class math block, and that I would not likely push the scientific envelope one smidgen. Add the unhappy fact that I happen to be a diabetic and you can easily see how it is that I cheer, positively cheer, any researcher hard at work on a cure for what ails me.

I take a measure of solace, however, in reminding myself that many combatants in the science wars know even less about hands-on science than I do. Small wonder, then, that genuine scientists, the ones who work with Bunsen burners and chalk up on the blackboards, often regard the culture studies crowd with such contempt. That’s where I may have something of an advantage because the same attacks now being mounted on scientific authority are old hat to those of us in literary studies who watched our discipline become systematically destabilized. Bashing Shakespeare, either as Exhibit A in the hegemony of dead, white, European writers or, more recently, as an apologist of empire, became a way to ask, again and again, questions beginning with whose: Whose greatness? Whose excellence? And most important of all, whose interest is being served? Dressed up in the impenetrable language that may well be postmodernism’s defining feature, the agendas of identity politics rolled over those who talked about novels and poems (rather than "texts") and who believed, on aesthetic grounds, that some books were better than others. Such innocents often found themselves contemptuously dismissed as under-theorized, or worse.

As someone who has suffered these slings, these arrows, I know full well how cultural warfare works–and also how a spongy term such as "social construction" can easily be applied to everything from authorship to Zulu nationalism. That’s why Ian Hacking’s The Social Construction of What? is such a gratifying book. It covers a wide range of clashes about everything from how best to treat mental illness, child abuse, or anorexia, to the current research being done in sedimentary geology–and always with an eye on the specific "what" in question. My hunch is that Hacking has little patience with much that currently travels under the wide umbrella of social construction ("both obscure and overused," he snorts), but also that he recognizes useful thinking when he sees it:

Social construction has in many contexts been a truly liberating idea, but that which on first hearing has liberated some has made all too many others smug, comfortable, and trendy in ways that have become merely orthodox. The phrase has become a code. If you use it favorably, you deem yourself rather radical. If you trash the phrase, you declare that you are rational, reasonable, and respectable.

Given the vitriol on both sides of the science wars, Hacking serves a valuable function by explaining, in language as clear as it is smart, what noncombatants in the science wars need to know. Here, for example, is what he has to say about socially constructed anorexia:

Unfortunately, social construction analyses do not always liberate. Take anorexia, the disorder of adolescent girls and young women who seem to value being thin above all else. They simply will not eat. Although anorexia has been known in the past, and even the name is a couple of hundred years old, it surfaced in the modern world in the early 1960s. The young women who are seriously affected [their exact numbers are currently a subject of hot debate] resist treatment. Any number of fashionable and often horrible cures have been tried, and none works reliably. In any intuitive understanding of "social construction," anorexia must in part be some sort of social construction. It is at any rate a transient mental illness, flourishing only in some places at some times. But that does not help the girls and young women who are suffering. Social construction theses are liberating chiefly for those who are on the way to being liberated–mothers whose consciousness has already been raised, for example.

Since Peter L. Berber and Thomas Luck Mann published the first study to use "social construction" in its title (The Social Construction of Reality, 1966), we have been awash with imitators. Most of them concentrate on the "how it is" that our consciousness has been changed, and always, we are told, for the good. By contrast, the what that so interests Hacking hardly matters. Even fundamental physics is not immune in an age when some argue that scientific results, like everything else, are social constructs rather than discoveries about our world that hold independently of society.

We think of this fundamental debate separating social constructivists from objectively grounded scientists as yet another aggravating feature of postmodernism, but in fact it is quite old. In 1898, long before the term "social construction" was coined, Edwin J. Goodwin, an Indiana legislator, proposed a bill that would make ¹ = 3.2–and furthermore, that people using his "New Mathematical Truth" be required to cough up royalties. The scheme, part of other misguided efforts at the time to "square the circle," was eventually defeated. But it’s not hard to imagine other, equally daffy efforts to have a social tail wag the scientific dog. Who, after all, would be surprised if a contemporary version of Goodwin proposed that ¹ get rounded off to 3.0 rather than its more cumbersome 3.14 °? My imaginary politician might argue that, with enough votes, the natural order could be changed–and in ways that would certainly please the lazier students of his state.

Unfortunately, there would be other, unforeseen consequences as well. Many more scientifically minded folk were quick to point out that nobody would want to stand near buildings designed by an architect who used a 3.0 ¹ (or a 3.2 one, for that matter) in his calculations–and this is especially true for structures sporting domed roofs. Unfortunately, the sort of fuzzy thinking that once turned charlatans into objects of derision is now taken very seriously indeed.

Flash forward to Alan D. Sokal’s wickedly delicious 1996 parody of theory-heavy science. His essay was a torpedo below the water line, a deadpanned way of holding pretentious lingo and vacuous ideas up to ridicule. It demonstrated, as no "straight" account ever could, just how much nonsense was passing itself off as cutting-edge thought. Sokal’s jawbreaking title, "Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," should have been enough to tip off the editors of Social Text, but given their preference for airy postmodernist theorizing, it is hardly surprising that they accepted his tangled arguments about the social construction of gravity. Peel away phrases such as "privileged epistemological status" or "oppositional discourse," and copious footnotes to the likes of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, or Luce Irigaray, and what one discovers is that gravity has a strong social component. Indeed, what Sokal proposes (with tongue lodged firmly in his cheek) is that gravity can operate quite differently in New York City than it does in San Francisco–depending, of course, on how the respective citizens decided this matter at the ballot box.

Sokal, you will remember, brought his 1996 hoax to the attention of Lingua Franca, a journal that enjoys nothing more than a juicy academic scoop, and the rest, as they say, is history. The wire services jumped on the story and in short order Social Text became a national laughingstock. Not even the intellectually playful Stanley Fish was able to provide effective damage control–although he made a pinch-faced effort in a New York Times op-ed piece that scolded Sokal for "bad faith" and other crimes against the scientific community. But Fish’s sophistry didn’t wash–not for scientists pursuing the truth about how our world works, and certainly not for those who had long regarded postmodernist theorists as self-proclaimed emperors parading around without clothes.

I mention the much-aired Sokal hoax not only because Ian Hacking and Michael Ruse give it significant attention in their respective books but also because the flap itself sets the framework for what might be called "Social Construction: Round II." For Hacking, what matters most in the talk, pro and con, about social construction is the what at the immediate issue. Is it facts or gender, quarks or reality? Is it a person, an object, or an idea? Ruse puts it a slightly different way when he proposes that we may have been asking the wrong questions all along, and that, rightly seen, what we have is a situation in which both camps can mount strong arguments:

Our ultimate concern [Ruse argues] is surely with the issue of realism. Does an objective "real world" exist "out there" that can be known through the methods of science, or is science a subjective construction corresponding to shifting contingencies of culture and history, with nothing "real" beneath it? Are the epistemic norms of science guaranteed to lead us to a knowledge of this world, and if so why? Or are the epistemic norms also simply part of culture in the end, on a par with the metaphors of science? I worry about these questions [which Ruse obviously feels are the right ones], and now candor forces me to admit that–on the evidence we have–one could reasonably argue for either realism or nonrealism!

That is, one can make a case for Karl Popper who believes that there is indeed a "real world" out there. We may never know it exactly, but (in Ruse’s words) "‘truth’ is the correspondence of our ideas with this world, and the aim and method of science is to approach such truth, if only asymptotically"; or one can make an equally compelling case for Thomas Kuhn who believes that "there is no reality other than that seen through and created by the paradigm." His fair-mindedness (if that is what Ruse’s waffling comes to) reminds me of the Yiddish joke about the rabbi who listens to a couple seeking a divorce. The husband begins first, outlining his grievances (she is a lousy cook, a sloppy housekeeper, etc.). The rabbi gazes thoughtfully at the ceiling and proclaims, "You’re right!" He then goes on to hear what the maligned wife has to say (her husband is a lazy bum, and beats her to boot), and after giving the ceiling another look, announces: "You’re right!" "But rabbi," a witness interjects, "how can they both be right?" Stroking his beard, the rabbi sidesteps the contradiction with this playful retort: "Nu, so you’re also right!"

If Hacking takes up the pros and cons of socially constructing damn near everything, Ruse at least has the advantage of focusing squarely on evolution. Mystery of Mysteries not only follows the twists and turns of the long debate about evolution, but it also provides lively portraits of the major participants. Here, for example, is a snippet from the section devoted to Charles Darwin:

Start with religion. . . .The young Darwin moved from Christianity to deism, and evolution was for him, as for his grandfather, a confirmation of his religious position rather than an anomaly. This was the philosophy of the Origin: "Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual." Later in life, particularly under the influence of Huxley, Darwin’s beliefs faded into agnosticism. Even then, however, he did not go through the Origin systematically removing references to God.

Ruse provides equally compelling (and balanced) portraits of contemporaries such as Stephen Jay Gould and Edward O. Wilson. The result is a study that charts the progress of thinking about evolution and that shows how what was once a debate became a bitter dispute. Here it might be helpful to think of evolution as a kaleidoscope. Turn the cylinder one way and its shapes arrange themselves into one pattern; give it a quarter twist and you end up with something else, equally plausible so far as Ruse is concerned. My hunch is that Hacking would feel much the same way–that is, if we substituted one social construction of x for another.

Both Hacking and Ruse provide insider information delivered from a vantage point well above the fray that the science wars have produced. My hunch is that those on either side of the aisle will be unhappy with at least some of their observations–that is not only to be expected, but applauded. The consequences of science are simply too important for scientists and nonscientists alike to settle for tunnel vision, half-truths, and gobbledygook.

Has feminism changed science?

Has Feminism Changed Science?
By Londa L. Schiebinger
Harvard University Press, 256 pages

Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?
By Michael Ruse, Harvard University Press, 320 pages

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Margaret Wertheim

June 22, 1999 | In classic biology textbooks, the story of conception resembles nothing so much as a true-romance novel, in which the bodice-ripping formula of Barbara Cartland et al. is transposed into a cellular-level melodrama starring the virile "active sperm" and the demure "passive egg."

"In these sagas of conception," writes science historian Londa Schiebinger, "the spermatic hero actively pursues the egg, surviving the hostile environment of the vagina and defeating his many rivals." Like Sleeping Beauty, the egg drifts unconsciously in the fallopian tube, waiting to be awakened by the valiant, vital sperm. It is an archetypal story of female passivity enlivened by male energy -- a story as old as Aristotle, and as replete with patronizing overtones.

Since the late 1970s, however, a new generation of biologists has begun to peek behind this suspect veil and, using fresh analyses, to reveal quite a different story, one summed up by the title of a seminal paper, "The Energetic Egg." In this new account the egg, no longer a slumbering princess, becomes an active agent, directing the growth of microvilli (small finger-like projections on its surface) to capture and tether the sperm. Here the egg and sperm are partners, co-activators in the process of conception.


Check out books by Margaret Wertheim at BARNES and NOBLE


What is particularly noteworthy is that while the egg's cone of microvilli was discovered in the 1890s, it was not thought worthy of serious scientific attention until 80 years later -- a time when women's roles in society were themselves being reconceived.

But before we cheer too loudly for this liberation of a core biological function from the rhetorical trappings of millennia-old sexism, it is worth stopping to reflect that the new tale itself is rife with gendered cultural overtones. As Schiebinger notes, in this new account the egg and sperm have come to resemble nothing so much as the high-powered dual-career couple of the '80s and '90s.
Like the contemporary corporate woman, the new "energetic egg" is valued precisely because it is now seen to be more like its male counterpart. Like the business exec with her power suit, the new egg has been "masculinized." And just as the female exec risks accusations of aggressiveness, so too the new egg is all-too-easily seen as a "femme fatale, threatening to capture and victimize sperm." The point is that while the new story may have stripped away the old sexist overtones, the egg and sperm remain gendered, essentially reflecting the pattern of current social arrangements between men and women.

This saga of transformation in one of our premier biological narratives raises a question that has become central to the current discussion about science: Can science ever be free of cultural influences? To put it another way: Can science ever be purely objective, an inquiry into the unsullied "truth" about the "real" world, or will it always be prey to the vagaries of subjective experience?

This is the question that resides at the heart of the so-called "science wars" that have rocked the academy for the past several years, and which show little sign of abating. On the one side are the objectivists (sometimes called realists), who believe that science is an ever-progressing ascent toward an ultimate picture of the-world-as-it-really-is. On the other hand are the subjectivists (sometimes known as relativists), who believe, to varying degrees, that science will always carry the stamp of the culture from which it springs. For this camp, prevailing views about gender, race, class and the like inexorably influence scientific theories, so that we can never (even in principle) see the world as it really is. To this camp, that very notion is a fiction that must be abandoned.

Many, though by no means all, scientists fall into the first camp -- Stephen Jay Gould is an eminent exception. Likewise, many, though not all, historians, philosophers and science-studies scholars fall into the second camp.

The question of whether science can ever be culture-free is also at the heart of a number of new books. One of the best is Schiebinger's provocatively titled "Has Feminism Changed Science?" If science is, as the objectivists claim, a culture-free activity, then the answer must be no. But as the changing narrative of the egg reveals, it is not so easy to strip away the cultural subtext from our scientific theories.

The science wars have been simmering for the past decade, but in 1996 they moved from sort of a cold war standoff phase into active engagement. The catalyst was the publication by a little-known physicist named Alan Sokal of an article in the cultural studies journal Social Text. In his now infamous piece Sokal purported to present a postmodern critique of physics in which, using lashings of trendy French philosophy and deliberately nonsensical postmodern jargon, he suggested that quantum mechanics could be seen to support the view that all knowledge is culturally relative. Immediately after the piece came out he gleefully exposed it as a hoax designed to show that cultural studies types know naught about science and ought to lay off pronouncements on the subject.

Whether one regards this as a brilliant exposé or as a petty frat-boy prank, the fallout has driven a deep wedge between the community of scientists and the community of science-studies scholars (those who study how science fits into the social, cultural and historical landscape.)

One way of looking at this divide is suggested by Canadian philosopher Michael Ruse in his new book, "Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?" Ruse divides the two camps, roughly speaking, into the Popperians (following the Austrian philosopher of science Karl Popper), and the Kuhnians (following the American philosopher of science Thomas S. Kuhn). For Popper, science was a progressive activity, getting us ever nearer to a true picture of reality. Although Popper acknowledged that we could never find ultimate truth, he insisted on an objective view of science as an exploration of the world as it really is.

Kuhn, in his 1962 book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," famously declared that all science proceeds according to "paradigms" -- mental constructs or theoretical frameworks which inevitably change as our society changes. For Kuhn, science is not an ascent towards any God's-eye view, and the science of one age must be considered no better or worse than the science of any other.

Kuhn's book sparked its own revolution, not in science but in science studies, and it became a flash point for even more revolutionary views of science, which have culminated in the radically relativist views that Sokal and the objectivists so deplore.

The two extremes in the debate may be characterized as follows: For radical objectivists, nature is the only voice, with human culture playing no role. For radical relativists, nature has no voice of its own, and all scientific knowledge is the production of humans. In reality, most people fall somewhere in between. Even Einstein, that arch-realist, recognized that we can only know nature through the prism of our theories -- we can never see it naked, as it were. Glad news it is, then, to see Ruse and Schiebinger trying to find a middle ground.

Both Ruse and Schiebinger approach the question -- and both books are indeed framed as questions -- from the vantage point of a particular case study. For Ruse the case study is the theory of evolution, and the ways that ideas about evolution have themselves evolved over the past two centuries. For Schiebinger the case study is feminism, and the way that both female practitioners of science, and feminist theories about science, have affected (or not) various scientific disciplines -- from cell biology to primatology, archeology, medicine, mathematics and physics.

Feminist science scholars, it must be noted, make up one of the key groups to have claimed science as a culture-laden activity. As such, they are seen by objectivists as a key battalion of the enemy. In the post-Sokal era, Schiebinger is aware of the need for caution, and she approaches her subject with the hyperalert acuity of a lion tamer encountering a large, wild cat. The big surprise for many objectivists will be that Schiebinger lays to rest to the notion that women in and of themselves change the nature of science simply by becoming scientists. The culture of science is not rooted in the chromosomes of its practitioners, she assures us -- a conclusion all objectivists should applaud.

But if women do not necessarily do science differently, the historical record suggests that feminist perspectives have indeed made an impact on both the culture and content of science. The saga of the egg is just one example Schiebinger gives in which women's involvement in a field has opened up new lines of inquiry that have led to significant new discoveries. Another case in point is primatology. For more than a century primatologists, who were almost exclusively male, focused almost exclusively on male primates. Once a new generation of primatologists -- again beginning in the 1970s, and who by then included women -- started to pay attention to the females of the species, they found that previous views were clearly distorted. Other cases can be found in genetics, archeology and medicine.

Some of the female scientists who made these discoveries were avowed feminists, but many were not. Yet, as Schiebinger shows, it is no coincidence that so many of these insights came to the fore at a time when women's own role in society was changing, and when the very nature of "femininity" and "womanhood" was so much a subject of debate. In short, you do not have to be a feminist to be influenced by feminist cultural movements.


Check out books by Margaret Wertheim at BARNES and NOBLE


One example of this trend that has struck me forcefully over the past few years is the way in which the whole question of embodiment has become a hot topic in fields like artificial intelligence and cognitive science. After decades during which intelligence was seen to be a purely mental phenomenon, suddenly there is talk of it being ineluctably rooted in the physical reality of a body. Most of the current scientists and philosophers making this claim are men who would not (I am sure) identify themselves as feminists; nonetheless, feminist philosophers have been making just this claim for decades.

We are all a part of a cultural matrix, which, even if unconsciously, affects the way we think. As Schiebinger puts it "We cannot free ourselves of cultural influence; we cannot think or act outside a culture. Language shapes even as it articulates thought."

Reluctant though he seems to be to admit this, Michael Ruse comes to a similar, if more guarded conclusion regarding evolution. Tracing the evolution of evolutionary theory through a half-dozen of its major proponents -- from Charles Darwin to contemporary practitioners such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould and E.O. Wilson -- Ruse reveals how their views of evolution were influenced both by the culture of their time and by their own upbringings.

Wilson, for example, perhaps as a legacy of his Southern Baptist childhood, is still essentially looking for some kind of fundamental truth. As he acknowledges in his own recent book, "Consilience," at university he traded in his religion for science. Given the indelible traces of each man's culture on his scientific theories, Ruse frankly admits, "I see the influence of culture on scientific ideas as something that is here to stay."

That said, Ruse also wants to claim victory -- and for him it is the most significant victory -- for objectivism. The course of history has shown, he says, that although in the beginning evolutionary theory was almost purely a cultural construction, over the past two centuries it has been increasingly cleansed of such intrusions. While individual practitioners may still reveal the hallmarks of their culture, particularly in their use of metaphors to describe their ideas to non-scientists, in the final analysis the theory has been born out by objective, empirical validation.

In the end Ruse wants to have his cake and eat it, too: He sees evolutionary theory as essentially objective, but with an overlay of metaphorical subjectivity. Not everyone will feel satisfied with this resolution, but it is a heartening testimony to our times that this avowed champion of Sokal is at least prepared to acknowledge that the other side is not entirely wrong. | June 22, 1999

Mystery Of Mysteries: Is Evolution A Social Construction? - Review
Natural History, April, 1999 by John Tyler Bonner

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MYSTERY OF MYSTERIES: IS EVOLUTION A SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION? by Michael Ruse. Harvard University Press; $27.50; 320 pp.; illus.

After centuries of biological theorizing, have we yet formulated an objective science of life?

I started this book with some uncertainty because, unlike the author, Michael Ruse, I am neither a philosopher nor a historian; I am a laboratory biologist. But we do overlap in our common interest in evolution. He is a professor at the University of Guelph in Canada, and in his latest book he has put his knowledge to good use to say some fascinating things about the relative roles of culture and hard fact in the history of evolution and its mechanisms.

Is evolution a subject that has always been treated with total objectivity, or has it always been affected by philosophical and cultural attitudes prevalent at various times? If the latter is true, what has that influence been? At the risk of ruining the plot, let me say that in the author's view, the study of evolution has become less influenced by culture over time, moving increasingly toward an objective "science" in its purest form.

Ruse begins his journey at the end of the eighteenth century with the physician, poet, and naturalist Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin's grandfather. Here was a man of strong appetites (for food and for the ladies) who believed there had been a transmutation of species--that is, an evolution of living organisms--but who looked upon the matter as a given and, therefore, not in need of carefully assembled evidence. Despite his new ideas, he was "thoroughly culturally laden," as Ruse points out. Indeed, his treatise on transmutation, The Temple of Nature, is written in verse.

Ruse is especially good on the far more complex position of Charles Darwin, who, not satisfied with merely describing the fact of evolution, sought its causes in the mechanism of natural selection. Surrounded by a church-influenced culture during the time he was breaking new ground for a more objective science of biology, Darwin was understandably cautious about publishing his ideas. Ruse also argues that artificial selection--the careful breeding of domestic animals and plants to produce new and different varieties--was a well-established practice in Darwin's time and helped to shape his views.

From here, Ruse takes the leap into this century, selecting eight scientists who have been influential in the study of evolutionary biology and who represent some of the schools of thought over the decades. The first is zoologist Thomas H. Huxley's grandson Julian Huxley, who did some solid work in embryology, behavior, and evolution but is most widely known for his popular writings. I remember Huxley coming to Princeton a number of times to lecture, and he packed the house. Huxley's objectivity, Ruse suggests, was compromised by his belief in the idea of progress--and especially in the "improvement" of mankind--which led to his regrettable enthusiasm for the mystic evolutionism of Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Like Huxley, Theodosius Dobzhansky made many of his scientific contributions during the second quarter of the twentieth century. Dobzhansky was a Ukrainian American geneticist who emigrated to the United States in 1927 to begin his career in Thomas Hunt Morgan's famous "fly room" at Columbia University--the laboratory that gave birth to modern genetics. Dobzhansky then went on to do some of the foundation work connecting genetics to evolution. What intrigues Ruse is that Dobzhansky, a deeply religious man, succeeded in keeping his personal convictions separate from his professional science.

After Dobzhansky come a pair of biologists whose reputations were built as they popularized evolutionary science during the 1970s. Richard Dawkins, an Oxford University zoologist, had instant success with the 1976 publication of The Selfish Gene, in which he argues that Darwinian natural selection acts primarily on the genes. Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist who has been a columnist for Natural History since 1974, argues here and in numerous books that evolution acts on a hierarchy of levels, including whole organisms and groups of organisms. Dawkins and Gould are both brilliant writers, and their spirited debates have enlivened the subject of evolution for us all.

Next come two Harvard professors who played important roles in the 1970s and 1980s. Work by Richard C. Lewontin, a star student of Dobzhansky's, is an interesting mixture of groundbreaking population genetics and Marxist politics. Edward O. Wilson, an entomologist specializing in ants and founder of the field of sociobiology, combines solid science and voluminous popular writings.

Finally, Ruse discusses two scientists who are currently in midcareer: the English sociobiologist Geoffrey Parker, of the University of Liverpool, and the American paleontologist J. John Sepkoski Jr., of the University of Chicago. Parker is known for his research on the reproductive strategies of dung flies, upon which he has based important mathematical models of evolutionary strategies; Sepkoski applies mathematical models to interpreting trends in the fossil record.

From Erasmus Darwin onward, there has been a steady decrease in the influence of culture on the way we do science, and an increase in objectivity. "However socially or culturally convenient one may find the science," Ruse concludes, "if it does not succeed in the fiery pit of experience, it can and should be rejected." To anyone interested in the evolution of evolution, I recommend this book. It is written with clarity and grace, and both the professional and the layperson will find it full of riches.

John Tyler Bonner, emeritus professor of biology at Princeton University, is the author of a number of books, including Life Cycles: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist (Princeton University Press, 1995).

COPYRIGHT 1999 American Museum of Natural History
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group
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The Mormon Shipwreck
Saturday, Aug 27, 2005, at 08:32 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
A non-Mormon friend asked me the other day how I had found the time I have spent during the past three years to do all of the reading and writing I have done about Mormonism. I explained that people are affected differently by the kind of religious belief transition I have made, but for many it feels like their world is ending. That is how it was for me. I contemplated suicide briefly. I thought I was likely going to go through a divorce. I experienced enormous trauma in my closest personal relationships. For months I had trouble sleeping and unless fully occupied could think about little beyond how "this" had happened to me.

I felt like I was on a huge ship that suddenly and unexpectedly sunk, leaving me in a whirlpool that was about to drag me under. It was either swim, or die. So I swam desperately, not caring about anything else for a time. Most of my writing is mere froth kicked up by this effort. Eventually, it seemed like the current became weaker and my swimming less panicked, and finally, I felt relatively in control again. Occasionally, the current would surprise me with a burst of energy, and I would have to swim for my life. But for the most part I was under control and became increasingly comfortable in the water while calling out to passing ships for help in hope that I would find a new safe place. Then, to my amazement, I realized that I had been a fish all along and for some reason could not see that as long as I was on the ship. So, I tentatively put my head under the water and began to breathe, and then excitedly swam down into a world that I still find marvellous beyond my capacity for expression.

I would be interested to hear from others how they would characterize their experience "on the way out". Not only the dark and bitter part, but the wonder on the other side of that.

Best regards,

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A Request For Collaborators In A Post-Mormon Writing Project
Wednesday, Aug 31, 2005, at 07:21 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
The following is the introduction to an essay that has sat half finsihed (at 50 pages) on my computer for almost a year. I have finally decided to finish it, and would like to invite those interested to read the draft as it now sits and to provide comments, input, etc. If you would like to participate, send me an email and I will send you the draft essay.

Recovery From Mormonism
(Or Any Other Controlling “ism”)
A Guide for the Perplexed
bob mccue
*, 2005

Whenever someone sorrows, I do not say, "forget it," or "it will pass," or "it could be worse" -- all of which deny the integrity of the painful experience. But I say, to the contrary, "It is worse than you may allow yourself to think. Delve into the depth. Stay with the feeling. Think of it as a precious source of knowledge and guidance. Then and only then will you be ready to face it and be transformed in the process. Peter Koestenbaum


Larry Braithwaite asked me a while ago to write a summary of the “recovery” process that might be useful to those who have stumbled, groped, reasoned, quested – whatever – to the edge of Mormonism and find themselves devastated by what they there encounter. This was initially for me at least, a dark, terrifying place that I will never forget. Larry’s wife Tammy, with his support, has published her/their insightful story with regard to Mormonism (see, and has been flooded with requests for help by people who have read it. They thought that I might be able to contribute something that would be useful in that regard. As part of my continuing effort to repay the debt of those who helped me along this surprising-in-so-many-ways road, I am pleased to do what I can.

My primary objective as I write this essay is to provide context that will help to dissipate the vertigo and terror many people feel as they discover that the foundations of their spiritual lives – no, their entire lives – are nothing like what they appeared to be. It is difficult for those who have not gone through this experience to understand it. For example, a non-Mormon friend asked me the other day how I had found the time I have spent during the past three years to do all of the reading and writing I have done about Mormonism. I explained that people are affected differently by the kind of religious belief transition I have made, but for many it feels like their world is ending. That is how it was for me. I thought I was likely going to go through a divorce. I contemplated suicide briefly. I experienced enormous trauma in my closest personal relationships.

I felt like I was on a huge ship that suddenly and unexpectedly sunk, leaving me in a whirlpool that was about to drag me under. It was either swim, or die. So I swam desperately, not caring about anything else for a time. Most of my writing is mere froth kicked up by this effort. Eventually, it seemed like the current became weaker and my swimming less panicked, and finally, I felt relatively in control again. Occasionally, the current would surprise me with a burst of energy, and I would have to swim for my life. But for the most part I was under control and became increasingly comfortable in the water while calling out to passing ships for help in hope that I would find a new safe place. Then, to my amazement, I realized that I had been a fish all along and for some reason could not see that as long as I was on the ship. So, I tentatively put my head under the water and began to breathe, and then excitedly swam down into a world that I still find marvellous beyond my capacity for expression.

This essay is about how one gets from raw terror to pure wonder and excitement, and why it is reasonable to expect that to happen. And I note that for many, the transition process is not as difficult as it was for me. The degree of difficulty mostly depends on a person’s biology, how fully conditioned she is to Mormonism, how much her family and other relationships are tied into Mormonism and how easily she adapts to change in general.

For some reason, it has taken a while to find the energy for this task. I think this is because I am now at a stage of my “recovery” where it is often hard to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak. I spend a lot of my time off running through fields of light so enchanting that they fully occupy me. And my guts still twist when I think about the early parts of the path that has led me to this point. I also know something about my compulsive nature, and could predict that once I opened this can of worms it would absorb a large chunk of time. So, it has now been almost a year since I promised that I would get to this as soon as a few other pressing issues at work were off my plate. I expect that the time will come when the recollection of how I “recovered” from Mormonism will not cause this kind of discomfort. I look forward to seeing that healthy signpost along the road of my own continuing recovery.

I have organized this essay so that you can get the basics from reading the “Abstract” found just below this introduction. Those who are interested in more than that will find it in the body of the essay and other materials to which I refer. In that regard, you will have to put up with numerous references to other essays I have written. That is not because my writing is necessary the best on this topic, but rather because I refer to what I know. Writing has become for me a primary form of therapy – as intimated above, a froth produced as I have done the exercises necessary to form a new worldview and as a result, grow a new brain.

Despite my experience with Mormonism, I still believe in the wisdom of the crowd (see James Surowiecki, “The Wisdom of Crowds – reviews at and However, I choose the crowds with which I associate with great care, and extensively winnow their advice. I have tried to harness the power of the group by posting early drafts of this essay on the bulletin boards at and, as well as sending it for comment to a number of people whose opinions I respect and who have perspectives that differ markedly from my own. The input received from these sources has immensely enriched what you will find in this essay. The awkward or erroneous parts are, however, all mine.

A Broad Perspective on Recovery from Mormonism

Most topics are best understood in the broadest possible context (see So, I think it is useful to attempt to place the discussion of changing one’s religious orientation – and in particular moving from the Mormon to the post-Mormon world – in the broadest historical, psychological and sociological framework possible, without writing a book. This is particularly the case regarding religion because many religious people, including Mormons, have been trained to think of their religion as uniquely important and hence not subject to understanding in the same way other aspects of human experience. Hence, much of the recovery process relates to learning how our religious experience is the result of the same psychological and sociological mechanisms that have been extensively studied in other contexts. That is not to say that we understand these things completely. But we do know a lot about how they work, and the work the scholars in various fields have done in this regard is enormously helpful for those who are trying to understand how the world could have seemed to certain for so long, and then suddenly (or gradually in some cases) turned to dust. The perspective gained by standing on the shoulders of the scholars who have done this work can be crucial in different ways. For some, it takes the edge off the terror they feel while moving from one state of seeing religious “reality” to another. For others, much more importantly, it provides the courage necessary to pass through the “narrow gate” and acknowledge reality in the first place. And for yet others, perhaps more important still, it provides the balm needed to heal wounds that have been largely ignored after leaving Mormonism for one reason or another long ago, all the while feeling vaguely deficient and guilty as a result of not having lived “up to” the standard set by the Mormon community.

The transition out of Mormon belief was more painful than anything else in my experience, and paradoxically, some of my life’s greatest euphoria followed close on the heels of my worst misery. Joseph Smith captured this paradox in his description of how his vision of God and Christ was immediately preceded by a struggle with the forces of darkness. In this he echoed an ancient mythic theme. I do not suggest that this means he was inspired, but rather acknowledge his ability to identify and push important psychological buttons that have been used by countless religious and other social leaders before and since him to attract and hold the attention of their peers. Charisma, power and the ability to persuade are generally speaking what are perceived to be divine inspiration.

So, here are several perspective broadening exercises we will undertake to enhance our understanding of Mormonism and how it affects us.

First, we will set the process of changing belief in what is likely its broadest possible context – that of mythology. That is, people have been going through this kind of thing in one way or another ever since humankind began to record her history. I found this idea in and of itself profoundly comforting and enlightening.

Second, we will review a couple of succinct analyses of the process of spiritual transition. The first is a bare bones description of the process as described by an insightful post-Mormon, and the second is a summary of James Fowler’s robust treatment of this topic in his well-worth-reading book “Stages of Faith”.

Third, we will focus on the part of the process described by Fowler that is likely of greatest interest to those who will read this essay – the transition from the narrow, group-controlled belief (Fowler calls this “stage two” or “stage three” faith) through the anger and terror of Fowler’s “stage four faith” into the light and wonder of Fowler’s “stage five” faith. This is of particular importance to both post-Mormons and those who deal with them because the terror and anger of stage four discourages some people from ever going there, and is frightening to anyone who has to deal with someone who is going through it. Perspective here is of particular importance. We will review some of what the psychological and sociological literature has to say about this transition, what it is reasonable to expect of it in terms of time and energy, and how to try to manage it. This will include an extensive analysis of what might be called the “Stage of Grief”. That is, the literature with regard to how we grieve losses andadjust to them is of great help to those who are going through this process in terms of the removal of Mormonism or any other major ideological pillar from their lives.

Fourth, we will review a variety of the principles that relate to building a new worldview, and why that is for many people one of life’s highlights.

And finally, we will wrap up with more mythology since we remember stories far more effectively than we remember theory, and so we will attempt to attach the most important principles we have discussed to one of the worlds most famous and memorable myths that is relevant to this process.
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Does Prayer Work? Does Mormonism Work?
Sunday, Sep 4, 2005, at 08:13 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
The answer to this question, as is so often the case with questions of this type is, "That depends on what you mean by 'works'". Let’s explore this interesting issue. I will set out my thoughts and would be interested to hear the impressions and experiences others have had along similar lines.

In a recent thread ( I posted the "rest of the story" regarding a well publicized study a year or two ago that alleged prayer to be an effect meanings of curing certain illnesses. And not the usual kind of prayer where the ill person is sitting and listening as someone prays for her. Rather, this was about prayer for an ill person who does not know she is being prayed for. This later type of prayer has been shown to have no measurable effect on health.

While I no longer pray in the way I used to, I still regularly (and in fact more often than before) express gratitude and love toward others for whom I care. And I am sure that this has a positive effect on both them and me. I will explain why below. And I believe that Mormon prayer and certain of its rituals that involve prayer are effective in a sense for this reason as well.

There is a large body of psychological literature that explores the way in which expressions of gratitude, love and encouragement affect both the persons giving and receiving them. The person expending energy to make the expression perceives herself to have been energized by the experience, and the person receiving the expression tends to react similarly though along different psychological correlates. This is a great deal for all involved. 2 + 2 = 6.

The various ritual behaviors used within the Mormon and other religious traditions harness the power of this long understood phenomenon in at least two important ways. First, it is used to make people feel good about themselves and others. And second, it is used to strengthen the perception that the Mormon institution is the source of this wonderful aspect of human experience. Let’s look at the second aspect of how Mormonism uses this part of human experience.

Frequently Mormon prayers are not prayed in private. Meetings open and close with prayer. Mormons pray over meals. Fathers', priesthood, baby and patriarchal blessings are usually performed before groups of people. At the core of the marriage ceremony we find a prayer. The expression of testimony is close to a prayer in that while it is addressed to the group, it closes in the name of God. “Prayer lists” are maintained in Mormon temples. The temple “prayer circle” is a particularly interesting form of public prayer that gives a feeling of privacy and exclusivity since only the "most worthy" are permitted to participate. Missionary companions and married couples are encouraged to prayer together, day and night, and to pray audibly as well as silently.

In each of these prayer forms, Mormons are encouraged to do various things having different purposes that are intertwined by the act of praying about them at the same time. For example, Mormons are encouraged to express gratitude both to God and to other people, often people who are present or if not present who will become aware that the prayer was said. The temple prayer circle is particularly interesting in this regard. The names on the prayer roll are not a matter of public record. But frequently the word makes it back to the “sufferer” (my name was various prayer rolls for a long time as I left Mormonism and for all I know, still is) that her name had been put on the prayer roll at one temple or another (sometimes simultaneously at several) as an act of love; acts often performed by "insiders" who are more worthy toward "outsiders". This simultaneously lifts the insider by making her feel good about having acted in a loving manner, while highlighting the insider v. outsider lines more clearly in her life.

The act of expressing gratitude, as noted above, has been shown to have a powerful positive effect on how both the person expressing and the person receiving the expression feel. All others present tend to be positively moved as a result of witnessing what has happened. This binds the social group together. By causing this to occur in the context of Mormon ritual, the Mormon institution can take credit for the good feelings produced by these universal human mechanisms, and so strengthen itself.

Another important aspect of expressing gratitude is that the thing we express gratitude toward becomes more precious to us. This is the case when we silently express gratitude, and the more public the expression becomes, the stronger the effect. This is why testimony bearing, or witnessing, in particular is stressed within Mormonism and other faiths. And this is why prayer is a stepping stone toward testimony bearing both for children and for those "invesitgating" Mormonism. The evolution of many rituals can be explained in this way. For example, this is one of the reasons psychologists and anthropologists believe the ritual of public marriage ceremonies evolved. The community has a stake in encouraging stable marriages for various reasons that I won’t go into here. The public nature of the commitment, expression of love, expression of gratitude by the couple for each other, etc. were found over time to help stabilize the marital relationship. And everyone likes an excuse to party anyway.

In Mormon prayer and prayer-like rituals, expressions of love and gratitude for those closest to us are intertwined with expressions of love for God. And these are confounded both with each other and expressions of love for the Mormon institution and its symbols – Joseph Smith; the temple where absolute obedience to Mormon authority is promised; the current prophet; other current leaders; etc. So, much of the good feeling and energy that results from expressions of love and gratitude end up solidifying the relationship between the individuals giving, receiving and witnessing these expressions and the Mormon institution.

In fact, when required to choose between the Mormon institution and any of these loved ones, the choice is intended by the Mormon institution to be clear, though few Mormon leaders will admit this. The Church comes first. The Celestial Kingdom is more important than Earthly life. But rather than counsel marital break up, most Mormon leaders will stand aside and let the chips fall where they may when one spouse seems clearly committed to leaving Mormonism and the other intent on staying. And this should not surprise us since many social groups historically have operated on this basis, and this teaching is at the core of Christianity. Christ's message was intended to divide families as well as communities over the issue or religious faith, if it came to that. The only thing unclear about the many New Testament passages that make this point in different ways is whether Christ himself said what they say, or whether those building the Christian community after Christ's death remembered Christ saying what was so obvious to them and so added these sayings to his record themselves and so invoked his authority.

Because the powerful feelings I have just tried to describe occur in circumstances that the Mormon Church creates, it is reasonable for a person with little or no experience outside of Mormonism with regard to these things to conclude that Mormonism is responsible for them.

This brings us to the emphasis on pageantry, solemnity, reverence etc. that accompany many Mormon rituals. These individual and group actions are well known to produce powerful emotional experiences that humans like. Combine that with the power of the personal expression of love and gratitude, and a wonderful cocktail has been mixed.

And then there is the so-called placebo effect. It is well established in the medical as well as psychological literature that if we believe that something will have a positive effect on at least some aspects of our physical health (herpes, for example, reacts positively to placebos), emotional well being (depression reacts particularly positively to placebos) or perception of pain, it probably will have. An article in a recent Economist magazine summarized current medical studies that have been done in this regard. These studies linked the lastest brain imaging (PET) scans to traditional placebo studies to see what was happening in the brain when people were under the influence of a placebo they believed would reduce their perception of pain. It was shown that the brain produced increased levels of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killer, when the participants thought they were receiving a pain killer but in fact were only receiving a placebo. And they of course reported significantly decreased levels ofpain.

I can think of no reason for which the placebo research would not apply as well to Mormon prayer and priesthood blessings as it would to sugar tablets and saline solution thought to contain effective medication. This would reinforce the idea that something supernatural was possessed by the Mormon institution in the form of priesthood authority, furthering the reverence, deference and obedience reasonable people would tend to show to that institution.

So yeah, prayer works. It does all kinds of powerful things when linked with the right social and psychological mechanisms that are known to be effective in many other contexts.

Does this mean that there is no God and that faith and prayer have no other effects? In my view, the evidence does not go that far. What this line of research clearly indicates is that many of the supernatural aspects of human experience that are attributed to prayer and faith as the result of misunderstood natural phenomena. And the most important lesson for me in all of this is that I was hoodwinked into believing that the Mormon institution had unique power to make me feel good; to heal me; to foster loving relationships; etc. when in fact it was simply misdirecting my attention from the most probable nature of the mechanisms that were having their expected effect in my life, and taking credit for wonderful aspects of life in ways that were deceptive.

Now we have unwoven part of a rainbow. The wonder and beauty of Mormon life lays smashed on the floor all around us. Mormons are often critical of the “anti-Mormons” for the manner in which we tear down without building up. So let’s do a little building up, and notice how easily this occurs.

It took quite a while on my way out of Mormonism to pick apart the threads I just described. As I did so, something happened that I believe to be the normal, sensible response to what I had experienced. The key to understanding this is to appreciate the nature and importance of perspective, and what we should expect to happen to us once our perspective changes about anything that is important to us.

Once I understand how important the expression of gratitude was (thanks to Martin Seligman’s psychological studies), I made it a point to express gratitude more often. Each time I do this, it lifts me. Thanks Martin!!! Even that made me feel good. And the understanding that this is something natural, available to all, that has nothing to do with Mormon or any other kind of authority, fills me with joy. It felt wonderful, for example, to get rid of the idea that there was something unique and special about the feelings of joy a Mormon couple have as they promise to love each other in a Mormon temple and there express gratitude to a few crying, oddly dressed family members and friends. This is a universal human response to that kind of circumstance. So it makes perfect sense that once I understand this, I would simply go out of my way to find opportunities to express sincere gratitude for those in my life.

The same thing applies to expressing love. The same thing applies to expressing encouragement. The same thing applies (to a point at least) to helping other people.

And having learned a few useful tricks from people like Seligman, I was encouraged to see what else they can teach me. The importance of forgiveness is something else I have learned from them. The importance of being involved for a significant part of each day in “flow activities” is another important point. The importance of identifying my “signature strengths” and focusing on doing as much as I can with them instead of worrying about fixing what I perceive to be “character flaws” that I am likely never to overcome. We seem to go further and enjoy the ride more if we concentrate on doing what we can with our strengths instead of beating ourselves up for what we are not so good at doing.

Etc. My intent here is not to try to write a life manual, but rather to indicate that there is a vast world of information out there, well organized and back up by solid empirical studies, that we can use to guide ourselves toward lives that we have reason to believe will be more joyful, productive and fun than anything the well intended but ego blinded old guys in SLC could possible offer from their point of view. The basic reason for this is simple and clear. Their primary objective is not to create the strongest, healthiest, happiest individuals possible. Their objective is to create the strongest Mormon institution possible. And that often requires sacrifices to be made by many individual Mormons.

Like us. Or like us as we were.

All the best,

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Encouraging Myths For Post Mormons
Thursday, Sep 8, 2005, at 08:25 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
The Use of Mythology in the Recovery Process

One of the most comforting perspectives to be grasped as we deal with the trauma caused by a changing belief system is that provided by mythology. This shows how common this process is, and how integral it is to the creative forces that underlie both individuals and societies. We find evidence of this in most of human civilization’s major myths. But I am not talking about “myths” in the sense of stories that are not true. Rather, I am talking about the kind of story that gives meaning to people’s lives – stories that may not be literally true, but speak in a universal language of symbols and archetypes about recurring themes in human life. Stories like, for example, the resurrection of Christ and his Virgin Birth that are repeated in many cultures with regard to their foundational figures and represent among other things humanity’s amazing capacity to reinvent itself in both its social and individual form. Carl Jung said that these mythologies are like collective dreams, and that they come from the same placeas do our individual or private dreams – the experience humans have in common. We desire companionship, love, family, respect, power and many other things. We fear isolation, death, suffering, etc. We share biology as well as family and social structure. Any theme that resonates consistently with human beings over long periods of time and so has found its way into many foundational myths is likely of great importance to human beings.

As I was going through some of my darkest moments in the birth canal on my way out of Mormonism, a friend referred me to comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell. I found him and others like him to be immensely helpful for the reasons already noted (see in general and starting at page 36).

Campbell describes mythology as those beliefs that are used to make sense out of life’s most basic questions and so to stabilize life itself: Why do we exist?; why do we suffer?; why do we rejoice?; why do we die?; what happens after death?; etc. He notes common threads in these myths, and in patterns related to the nature of myths and the human groups that believe them. For example, people who live in environments where resources are scarce and hence fought over by competing human groups tend to have myths that justify killing other humans, whereas people who live in environments of abundance don’t tend to have such myths. Mythologies, Campbell would say, are mostly functional – they help us to make sense out of what we have to do to survive. And, to serve their purpose they must be believed to be true, if not literally, then metaphorically or symbolically. In that sense, Mormonism is a classic mythology. If you would rather, you can substitute the term “belief system” wherever I use “mythology”.

Campbell quipped that we tend to think of mythologies as what other religions teach, while our belief system (religious or otherwise) teaches the truth. This is as true for many who use a largely scientific worldview as any other. Some such folk, and even some scientists, use scientific theory and data to support behavioural prescriptions and value judgements that science itself would never condone and in this sense, many science based worldviews are mythological in the same sense as are most traditional or religious worldviews.

It is also important to note that science does not support the belief in any particular understanding of God beyond the idea that the wonderful order we see in nature obviously came from something. If we are content to call whatever that is “god”, then science will support us. This was pretty close to Einstein’s position. Beyond that, as Einstein noted, science simply does not address the “god” issue or many other issues that are of foundational importance to many human beings. This does not stop people on either side of many debates (including the “does god exist” debate) from invoking science whenever they think they can strengthen their argument by doing so. This understandably confuses those who do not understand how science works.

So, people like Einstein would support the idea that mythic themes that have stood the test of time and have cropped up in human culture after human culture often are found to contain kernels of truth that have been explained reasonably well by science or that are not in conflict with the scientific view of the world. Foundational or mythic stories of this type can help us to understand both the workings of our own minds (or souls – use the term you prefer) and social groups. And while there is a lot about how mythology affects us, how stories weave both the ancient mythologies and our modern and “true” (we are sure) belief systems, I will leave that for later and focus here on how a several mythic themes are profoundly encouraging to those of us who may feel that we have awakened in the bottom of a well, so far from daylight that we may never see it again. They are “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, “The Night Passage” and “Social Masks”.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

One myth that exists in almost all societies is the hero myth. This is the myth of the person who leaves the group to go on an adventure. Often this is required by a need within the group – a battle to be won; a fair maiden to be rescued; a magical talisman like The Grail to be found; etc. A few of the common elements of this myth are as follows:
  • The hero leaves the safety of the group and goes into the unknown where all kinds of horrors exist that are not found within the world inhabited by his group;
  • The unstructured, dangerous nature of the world outside the group (chaos) represents the dangers most humans perceive to exist if they leave their group either physically or intellectually;
  • The hero faces the horrors of chaos, and finds that he has unexpected powers, some given to him by the authorities who authorized his adventure and others that seem to well up from within or are found during the course of the adventure;
  • The authorities who authorize the adventure are often not the mainstream authority within society, but rather alternative sources of wisdom or power that are unknown to the main group but have an important influence on the welfare of the group as a whole;
  • The hero is changed by his adventure, and often returns with a treasure quite different from the one he set out to find.
  • Ironically, the hero often finds the most important part of his treasure only after returning home. In one Near Eastern myth, the treasure sought by the hero the world over was buried under his own porch upon his return from his epic adventure.
Some mythologists have divided the hero’s journey into three stages. First is separation, a time of great excitement or angst as the hero leaves or is torn from the known and thrust into the unknown. The second is liminality, when the hero is outside the reach of her society while pursuing her quest. During this time the rules of “normal” behavior do not apply as the hero finds her way through a strange land and undergoes the trials that will cause her reconstruction. And the third is reintegration as the hero rejoins his social group. This is often difficult for many parties since the hero has changed and sometimes his group has as well.

One way to think of the recovering Mormon is as a reluctant hero – a “Frodo” kind of hero. “The Lord of the Rings” is, by the way, a classic hero myth. I could go on for pages (and have done so elsewhere in a half finished essay that will likely never see the light of day) about the analogues between “The Lord of the Ring” and recovery from Mormonism. Suffice it to say here that Frodo did not want to be the ring bearer. Others were stronger, seemingly better suited to the task, etc. In fact, many of them were baffled as to why Frodo seemed to be fated to bear the ring, and despaired for their civilization as a result. He did not seem to have what the task demanded. And yet, as he and his companions time and again threw themselves into the unknown – into chaos – they found out more about themselves and eventually found a way to complete the great mission which was entrusted to them. And Frodo’s unique talents, as it turned out, made him the idea ring bearer. That story is great mythology, but of course would likely cause profound damage to anyone who decided that he was a literal Frodo of some kind carrying the sacred ring of knowledge that would destroy the evil kingdom of Mormonism, or any other.

Another hero myth with which we are all familiar is Christ’s story.

The process of facing the unknown, being pushed into it and having the courage to continue, and then being reconstructed – reinvented – by a combination of personal choice and the forces one has to face outside the secure confines of one’s social group, is one of the most basic of all human stories. And it is the story of recovery from Mormonism.

Note that the hero usually acts alone or with a small group of companions. The vast majority of the social group is usually blissfully unaware of the danger they face and of the adventure that is underway. And the hero’s return is often understood as such by only a few. As is the case with many of the main features of widespread myths that reflect recurring social patterns, there is a sound sociological/psychological basis for this aspect of the hero myth.

A thirst for exploration and learning is basic to humanity’s historical and continuing evolution, and is responsible for our continual learning about how to control our environment. As we continue to learn, we become more powerful. One of the longstanding concerns of some of the most insightful members of society has been that human power will outstrip human wisdom to the point at which we will destroy ourselves. I think that concern is, by and large, healthy since the more aware we are collectively of these risks the less likely we are to be harmed by them. The hero myth genre, as it is told by different societies, shows the balance they variously recommend between deferring to the view of the group and so slowing down change to make falling into chaos less likely, or on the other hand encouraging as much individual innovation as possible in full confidence that the resulting change and the energy that it releases can be controlled so that chaos will not reduce our society to rubble. The former tends to be favoured by Eastern cultures while the latter is the West (and particularly the US’s) hallmark. For a wonderful contrast in this regard, see last years movie “Hero” (Chinese with English subtitles) in which the powerful hero allows himself to be killed so that a tyrant king can continue his drive to unite China and so reduce the chaotic fighting between its factions, and “The Matrix” trilogy in which the power of the individual and small group to reshape a corrupt society is highlighted.

The Night Passage This is a particular kind of hero journey that has many tellings and if profoundly encouraging for those who have been shaken loose from the Mormon moorings. Since most who read this are likely familiar with the story of Jonah and the whale, we will use it as our primary narrative and refer briefly to other stories.

Jonah was an unlikely hero – a regular guy. God called him to a difficult mission, and he declined. Therefore, God sent a great fish to swallow Jonah up, allow him some time to reconsider his options, and then spew him out on the shore in a place where it was convenient for him to fulfill his divine calling, which he then did. He was thus transformed, and at the same time made a contribution to his community that was essential to it

The Jonah narrative has roots in many other preceding Near Eastern myths that I am not going to trace. However, a review of certain common themes is useful.
  • The hero seldom seeks this adventure. Rather, it seeks him. This often manifests itself in a force beyond the hero’s control that takes her over and throws her into chaos. This is the fish that shallows Jonah or the monster Tiamat that swallowed Heracles. While under the control of this greater power (in the belly of the beast), powerful forces both strip the hero of her power (Heracles symbolically lost his hair, so becoming childlike) and cause new powers to coalesce. The hero emerges from this womb-like state humbled, reconstructed and ironically more powerful.
  • There is often a descent from the ordered life into something less ordered or completely disordered as in the many cases where a hero descends into the underworld and its chaos (the usual rules cease to apply) to perform some task essential to those in the land of the living. Out of this relative chaos, a new kind of person is formed. Since as I am writing this the chaos in New Orleans caused by hurricane Katrina is still killing people each day, I am grieving that loss of humanity and civilization, and wondering what kind of new order will emerge from the chaos there.
  • These heroic experiences often occur either at night or in a place of darkness, such as the whale’s belly or the underworld, and re-emergence into the light of morning or the outside word evokes the image of the rising of the Sun or its strengthening and life giving influence in the Spring of each year.
  • The hero’s journey requires a withdrawal from society.
  • During darkness, wisdom is often conferred upon the hero either by humbling experience or divine gift. Mohammed’s famous “night journey” that some modern Muslims are trying to understand through the lens of near death experience research (see Near death experiences are well known to have reconstructing influences on those who have them that are similar in many ways to those found in the Jonah type of legend (see I heard Bruce Greyson (see, one of the leading researchers in this area speak about it recently.
  • As the hero emerges from her seemingly dark, confined, chaotic space, the world itself often appears to have reconstructed and in hence more receptive to the hero’s new powers. Thus was the world changed during Noah’s time in the Ark, and for Lehi and his family as they emerged on a new continent from their mytic barge/submarines. The reader is often left to wonder whether the world is actually different, or whether the hero’s new perspective causes all to be reborn with her.
  • Often new parents, or guides, are found for the journey through the hero’s new world, as was the case as Moses emerges from the bull rushes.
There is a tremendous amount of food for thought for post-Mormons in this mythic vein.

Social Masks v. Individual Masks

One of my favourite analyses of the hero mythic structure comes from W.B. Yeats in the form of his analysis of social masks. You can see that and related subjects summarized at

The basic idea is that society tells us who we are – puts a mask on us. This is necessary to create order within society, and it gives us a starting point. Some social groups put this mask on more tightly than others. The Hindu caste system, for example, is much more rigid than anything Mormonism has come up with. However, all groups to an extent at least resist attempts to tamper with the social mask, and there is an individual force that wells up from within that encourages us to find a more “authentic” way of living – a way that “feels right” for us as individuals. Yeats characterized this as the removal of the social mask and creation of an individual mask, or masks. That is, the formation of an individual identity. The same thing is known in the psychological community as the process of “individuation”. The more powerfully our social mask has been attached to us, the more painful it is to take it off. In the Western Democratic part of our world, masks tend not to be as firmly attached as they are in other parts of the world (India or Iraq, for example). And, in the West the tendency toward the formation of the individual mask is the strongest. Not coincidentally, this is where human innovation has yielded its most abundant harvests in recent times. Mormonism and other fundamentalist leaning religious groups run counter to this trend in the Democratic West.

After our individual mask has been formed, we may identify wholly with it or we may continue to wear the social mask to an extent, recognizing it as such, and revert to the individual mask as often as we can. Or, we may develop a range of masks and wear them each on occasion. How we do this, the extent to which we do it, etc. is determined by our individual characteristics and the nature of our group. For example, some scholars have observed that the more structured a society, the more chameleon-like behaviour is observed. That is, in authoritarian societies individuals tend to wear of many different masks (See, for example, Richard Nisbett "The Geography of Thought"), each dictated by the different roles their society calls upon them to play from time to time (boss; subordinate; son; grandson; father; husband; friend; etc.) and are much less likely to experience the radical transformation from one state to another of which Yeats spoke to his largely Western audience.

Those of us who are able to remove our social masks and fashion individual masks are predicted by Yeats to be on our way to enjoying certain rare fruits. Middle age for such people is usually the most productive and exciting of life since they have learned to leap from the Moon to the Sun. That is, the Moon reflects energy created by others. The Sun is an energy source, as are those who wear individual masks. And as is the case with so much of human experience, it is only possible to understand the difference between the Moon and the Sun modes of life by experiencing it. For a faithful Mormon, this road goes through the terrifying valley of rejection of religious authority. This does not mean that religious authority must be ignored. It means that we must weaken Mormon authority’s influence over us to the point at which it becomes a possible source of wisdom like many others around us, and it must earn our allegiance by providing advice that is better than that readily available elsewhere. The experience of most Mormons who reach the point of questioning Mormon authority to this degree is to recognize that the wisdom on offer within the Mormon community is in most respects inferior to that available elsewhere. Once this realization sinks in, significant behavioural changes gradually occur as wisdom is sought from non-Mormon sources and as a result attitudes toward things like the role of men and women, how sexual orientation is formed, how political and social attitudes are formed, etc. begin to change.

Another lesson more accessible by those Westerners who wear individual masks than most members of society is the difference between essence and vehicles. We are more interested in light than what creates it. That is, we don’t much care about the particular light bulbs (vehicles) we have in our sockets as long as they produce satisfactory light (essence). Our mortal bodies are vehicles for a particular consciousness – our own. But consciousness – the life and energy of which we are a part – lives on after we are gone in various forms just as one wave crests and then returns to the sea. We are self-conscious waves on a sea of consciousness. We are like the little creatures that build the reef. What is important is the contribution we make to the reef, not the span of our own lives. As Einstein put it,

A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe'; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest--a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security." (See Nick Herbert, "Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics", p. 250)

I can imagine some people reading this and thinking (as I did the first time I ran across this idea), “Try telling a light bulb who is aware of herself that light bulbs are not important”. Fair enough. But we have thousands of years of Buddhist, Hindu and other traditions in which individual death has not held the power of people as it does in Western society. We westerners are much more individualistic than most other peoples have been. This is both our blessing and our curse. It is a blessing in some ways because our belief that we should take off our social mask and become creative has made our society the most productive, by far, in human history in terms of creating knowledge that allows us to control our environment. But this very emphasis on our individual importance makes us fear our own demise in ways that confuse many Easterners. They are much more humble about their place in the cosmos. They tend to see themselves as part of a whole rather than wholes in and of themselves. This takes away much of death’s sting.

Ironically, for the Westerner putting on an “individual” mask often means releasing herself from much of the individual emphasis of the West and thus coming to see herself much more as a part of the integrated whole of life.

It takes time for this counterintuitive set of ideas sink in. Become more individual by being less individualistic? The extinguishment of my own individual consciousness does not matter?! Etc. I think that it was well over a year ago that I first ran into these concepts and it has taken all of th time since then, coupled with a lot of reading and thinking, for them to feel comfortable; right. Perhaps for others who are brighter of more mentally flexible than I am it will not take so long. But in any event, I can state with conviction that once these ideas take root, they change us in important ways. We can simply revel in the period of our own creativity and watch with bemusement as our individual light fades and others take its place and function. This is as it always has been on this Earth, and for all we can tell will always be. We live; we create; we tire; and we depart the scene having left a legacy in terms of our genes, ideas, actions and inactions, and the myriad other influence we have exerted on life around us. A butterfly’s wing in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas. What can a human life cause as its influence cascades down through the generations? Think in particular of the causal chain started by one boy in England (my great grandfather) who joined the Mormon Church and moved to America in order to take up the challenge and opportunity to better himself this new and radical worldview offered. He believed that he was a “god in embryo” and left all he know to follow a dream. How many lives have been changed by that act of faith and courage alone? Or how about the faithful Mormon or Taliban or Hindu etc. who radically changes her worldview to bring it more into line with a naturalistic understanding of our world. How many lives will be changed by such an act of faith and courage?

Throughout our adult and hence more aware aspect of life, and particularly as we feel our departure approaching, we feel connected to all those who have gone before us and those yet to come, and feel deep gratitude for the chance we have had to be conscious of our tiny slice of life and to have contributed something for those we love. In this contribution and its continuing effect on all those to whom we become connected by infinite chains of cause and effect, we live on.

This philosophy is at least as justifiable as the traditional Western fear of death, and I would suggest, much more pragmatic. Why should we spend a great deal of energy worrying about what we can’t know – that is, what (if anything) will come next?
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A Summary Of How Denial Works
Friday, Sep 9, 2005, at 06:59 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I am pulling together my notes on this topic, and am trying to synthesize them into a set of working principles that is short and simple enough for me to remember. I would be grateful to anyone who cares to read this and tell me if they can think of any areas of research that are inconsistent with what I have put together. I will spare you the 150 pages of notes.

All the best,


The empirical and theoretical research produced by sociology, social psychology and psychology (as summarized above) can be synthesized into a description of a few features of human behavior that Mormonism is well suited to take advantage of. These can be stated as follows:

· Our perceptive faculties and brains do not primarily record objective information. They rather function in a manner consistent with what evolutionary theory indicates to be our most basic objectives – they help us to maximize our probability of survival and reproduction. Hence, we have an astonishing ability to more or less accurately perceive those aspects of reality that seem to increase the probability of our accomplishing those two objectives, and to suppress those aspects of reality that seem to hinder us in that regard.

· Our evolutionary imperative mandates many forms of relatively accurate perception, some of the most interesting of which are summarized in the heuristics research, and two overriding types of misperception which are as follows:

o The first type of misperception relates to the importance of the group historically to our individual survival and prosperity. I will call this “group induced misperception”. It causes us to largely accept as “real” what we perceive to be important to the group’s survival and prosperity and to suppress information that we perceive to threaten the group. Think, for example, of Bourdieu’s “misrecognition” concept and the authority bias research. Most of the bias research can be explained by this concept as well.

o The second type of misperception is caused by our need to feel secure within the group as individuals. For example, if our contribution v. our cost to the group does not meet some minimal standard, we may be pushed out and when our instincts were formed by evolution this likely often meant death. And the greater our status within the group, the greater our security and reproductive opportunity will tend to be. While this was likely true when our instincts were formed, it is still true in different ways now. I will call this second type of misperception “ego induced misperception”. Think, for example, of the justification bias research.

· Our inherited beliefs are the cumulative effect of the our group’s historic perceptions, which evolved for the practical purposes just noted and are almost certain to be inaccurate to a significant extent. See the information above regarding social context and “premises”.

· We will be slower to accept accurate information that conflicts with an inaccurate belief we hold than would a similarly educated and intelligent person who was not burdened by our inaccurate belief. This is likely in part because our brains format around our inherited beliefs. However, we behave this way with regard to inherited beliefs as well beliefs formed on a deliberatively rational basis in adulthood. This feature of our psychology likely evolved as a result of the importance of inherited beliefs to group stability and the likelihood that wisdom passed on to us by our elders of a more practical sort would be on balance adaptive. The confirmation bias research bears this out. This is one of the most pervasive and harmful cognitive biases.

· Emotion is largely driven by the older structures within the brain’s core, while deliberative reason of the type used in the scientific method is largely driven by structures that evolved more recently and are in the cerebral cortex. The older, cruder brain structures tend to overcome the more recent rational structures when they are pitted against each other. See the information above related to reason v. emotion.

· The more heavily we are influenced by emotion as opposed to reason (“ecological rationality” as opposed to “deliberative rationality”), the greater our tendency to misperceive. This increases the probability that we will act in accordance with our evolutionary imperative when confronted with evidence, whether accurate or inaccurate, that could threaten our group or our place in it. See, for example, the information above regarding taboos, ecological rationality, reason v. emotion, and value structures.

· We tend to equate strong feelings with “knowing”. This enhances our tendency to be certain of whatever moves us most deeply from an emotional point of view, whether it related to fear or desire, and so strengthens the tendencies already noted.

· Powerful emotional experiences, often characterized as “spiritual experiences”, result from both normal brain functioning and brain dysfunction. They are sometimes the result of solitary contemplation or other individual experience, and sometimes the result of group interaction of various sorts. These experiences are human universals and are both rationally and irrationally used in most human groups to support their foundational beliefs. See the information above related to spiritual experience and the emotion of elation.

· We are not as affected by emotion when examining the experience of other individuals or groups as we are when attempting to understand our own experience, and hence are able to see irrational behavior in others that we cannot see in ourselves. See the information above related to the pattern of insider belief and outsider rejection.

· Human tendencies evolve because they are on balance adaptive at the time of evolution. Hence, a tendency like the authority bias may have been adaptive on balance, but in some cases maladaptive. This would be particularly so from the perspective of many individuals within the group since the authority bias likely evolved to strengthen groups, and so only indirectly to benefit individual members of groups. And yet individual members of the group would be subject to it whether it was adaptive for them or not. Individuals who become aware of this can now often leave groups that work contrary to their particular interest, but should be expected to instinctively fear doing so for the reasons indicated.

· Human culture changes much more quickly than human biology. So human tendencies that evolved because they were at one time adaptive on balance (such as the authority bias) may persist after they are less adaptive on balance or even maladaptive. The declining importance of adherence to the dictates of certain kinds of small group authority makes the authority bias a likely an example of this. This explains why entire groups are instinctively held together when the costs them impose on their members is far greater than the collective benefits the members receive. Jonestown is likely an example of such a group.

Let’s now condense these principles by another order of magnitude to see if we can get a “take away” concept that is concise enough to be remembered.

· The human capacity to perceive evolved to make it more likely that we would survive and propagate in our physical and social environment (our “evolutionary environment”) at the time we evolved. In our evolutionary environment the well-being of our dominant, small social group and our security within it were far more important to our survival and reproductive opportunities than is now generally the case. Therefore, both in our evolutionary environment and now, when we are confronted with information that might threaten one of our group’s foundational values and hence threaten our group, we tend to misperceive the information so that it is not threatening. The same is true with regard to information that might threaten our place within the group.

· We are more likely to misperceive when under the influence of our emotions. Our emotions tend to flare when our group’s foundational values or our place in the group are threatened. However, we tend to rational when examining the foundational values of other groups, and so can spot their irrationality. The obvious irrationality of other groups coupled with our inability to perceive our own irrationality strengthens our group. And particularly powerful emotional experiences, often characterized as “spiritual experiences”, are human universals. These are used in most human groups to support their foundational beliefs.

That is short enough that it will do the trick for me.

So, how does Mormonism use these attributes of human behavior to strengthen itself?

· Mormonism emphasizes the possibility of knowing impossible to know and deeply comforting things with certainty, thus taking advantage of the human dislike of dissonance, bias toward certainty and fear of death and social instability.

· Mormonism emphasizes emotional feeling as a form of knowledge that should take precedence over “rational” or “intellectual” knowledge whenever there is a conflict, and encourages both group and individual behavour that will increase the likelihood of powerful emotional experiences. This supercharges the irrational effect emotion has within the Mormon community.

· Mormonism maintains control over as many of life’s experiences as possible that tend to produce positive emotions, and takes as much credit as possible for those feelings. These feelings are then used as evidence that Mormonism’s truth claims are “true”.

· Among Mormonism’s inherited beliefs we find a few that raise the fear and desire stakes, thus intensifying an already powerful authority bias and making Mormons more prone to the irrational effect of emotion. The most significant of these is that only those obedient to Mormon authority will be reunited after death in the Celestial Kingdom with their families in a state of unimaginable joy. This concept’s most pervasive influence comes from its making complete obedience to Mormon authority a condition to family life after death. This means that any strong taboo set up by Mormon leaders will evoke the fear response, which will impair reason. For the last several decades one of Mormonism strongest taboos has been against reading or talking about information that questions Mormon authority, regardless of the information’s academic merit. Hence, the first hurdle most Mormons must get over when faced with information that questions the Mormon belief system is an irrationality inducing fear response caused by themere idea that one might look at such information. If that can be overcome, the fear response that in most groups would be caused by seriously considering information that questions foundation group values must then be dealt with.

· Mormonism monopolizes its members' time and suppresses information that conflicts with Mormon belief, thus slowing the manner in which cognitive dissonance of various types will build within the Mormon population, and the opportunity reason will have to calm emotion and so overcome emotional irrationality. Importantly, it is taboo to read or talk about anything that questions Mormon authority. The mere appearance of this information is therefore enough to evoke a strong fear response in most Mormons, and so impair their rational faculties.

· Mormonism uses a host of group and individual rituals that are likely to amplify the effect of various biases and cause both group and ego induced misperception so as to strengthen the Mormon group. The emphasis on constant vocal affirmation of Mormon belief through public or semi-public scripture reading, praying and testimony bearing of various types is central to this.

What that is far from complete, it is good enough for present purposes.

When we add all of the above factors us, we should not be surprised that it is excruciatingly difficult for the typical faithful Mormon to look any information in the eye that questions the legitimacy of the beliefs on which his life is based.

So, we should not be surprised that it takes many of us until mid-life to “wake up”. And, we should not be surprised that many of our family and friends will never wake up. In fact, we should expect those who wake up to be in the minority. The force of denial within a heavily conditioned, socially tight community like most Mormon communities should be expected to be powerful.

On the basis of the foregoing, I feel justified to conclude that under the influence of the powerful personal experiences and social conditioning I have noted, the socially relative becomes more real than every day waking reality for many religious believers, including many Mormons, creating barriers to the kind of understanding across religious and other cultural lines that is becoming increasingly important in our shrinking world. The amounts to the denial of many kinds of highly probable reality, and explains to me both my own experience, and those of believers within many other traditions.

In sum, we should expect Mormons who have been fully conditioned by their community to be highly resistant to any information that challenges their beliefs. And, if for some reason a faithful Mormon is put in a position where the certainty he has felt that the Mormon worldview is “true” collapses, we should expect that to be a trauma on par with losing a close family member to death.
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Mormonism's Response To Secularization
Friday, Sep 9, 2005, at 07:07 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
This is a contribution I made recently to a science and religion list on which I participate.

All the best,


My continued reading here confirms that I have far more to learn than to contribute to those of you who have been at this science and religion stuff much longer than have I. Thank you all for some recent wonderful insights and challenging thoughts.

I stumbled across something a short time ago that puts some of what we are discussing regarding how to interface religious naturalism (RN) with the religious community in context. Many of you may already be aware of these old ideas. But since I needed to summarize them for my own purposes, I will share that summary here as my contribution to the community stew pot and hope that it is useful to some. This material runs more toward the "tactical" interest than in developing a positive statement of what RN is, in which I am also interested.

Swenson ("Society, Spirituality and the Sacred - A Social Scientific Introduction" (Broadview Press) (1999)) at pp. 347 - 384 summarizes the academic literature with regard to the secularization of society, including various ways in which the tension between science and other secular forces and institutional religion have been described. While creating a useful synthesis, he could not avoid treating us to a dizzying display of the scholarly propensity to create language and taxonomy to describe the similar if not identical phenomena.

One of the scholars whose thought Swenson reviews is Peter Berger. Berger builds on some of Max Weber and others' foundational concepts related to religion's changing role in society. After summarizing various ways in which religion has been marginalized by forces of secularization, Berger observes three responses at work in the religious community, as follows: The deductive; the reductive; and the inductive. I note, showing the same itch the results of which Swenson highlighted, that Berger's labels could easily be improved.

The Deductive

This amounts to a reaffirmation of the religious tradition. It is neo-orthodoxy, fundamentalism, retrenchment, etc. As Karen Armstrong has pointed out in "The Battle for God", each of the major religious faiths have shown increasing signs of this tendency during the past several decades.

The Reductive

This acknowledges science and philosophy as humanity's most authoritative guides, thus radically diluting religious authority. Theologians of this bent accommodate their religious views to secular authorities by using two primary tools, "cognitive bargaining" and "translating". Cognitive bargaining amounts to deliteralizing or metaphorizing what was traditionally assumed to be literal. That is, the Virgin Birth and Resurrection are important symbols, not real events. Translating involves what Berger terms the conversion of the "transcendent" into the "immanent". That is, religion is not about a relationship to a "sacred" force external to human beings, but rather is about identifying, understanding and relating to forces internal to human individual and groups. This involves interpreting old terms (often with traditional, literal meanings) in new (often metaphoric) ways. I thought of words like "religious", "spiritual", "sacred" in their RN context as I read this.

The Inductive

This is the movement from tradition or ideology to experience, which ironically is to walk back up the path religion has walked. Anciently, religion was more about experience than belief. The ascendance of ideology within religion is a relatively recent phenomenon. In his inductive approach, Berger follows the lead of Friedrich Schleiermacher who took human experience as the starting point of religious reflection and considered revelation to be every new or original disclosure of the cosmos to the innermost consciousness of the person. So, one begins with the widest variety of these experiences (as la William James, who was influenced by Schleiermacher) and induces from that what is common and so assumed to be most important. This induction is never complete, in part because human experience continues to change and in part because there is will always be new ways to interpret old experience. However, individuals and institutions often perceive induction to have done its job, or are not aware that a process is underway.

Berger's Synthesis

Berger believes that the inductive option provides the best way forward. Deduction, he believes, is a step backwards that shuts out much of the good modernity and post modernity have to offer. Reduction, he believes, often unnecessarily desacralizes human experience. Induction, he says, better preserves sacred experience and facilitates a process that will allow religious experience and institutions to change as the human condition and shape of human society changes from time to time and place to place.

Berger also concludes that the modern world has freed, and so ironically at the same time, isolated humans in new ways. We are thus put in a position to make decisions outside the monopolistic reach of religious institutions while understanding that sacred "reality" (in Otto's "mysterium tremendum" and "fascinadus" sense) and our subjective complex of wishes and desires are separate phenomena. Berger says that it is our connection to the permanent, sacred stratum of reality that carries us through the uncertainty of modern life. I infer that in his view this is where we find our most important meanings. Berger says that we cannot connect to the sacred sufficiently as individuals, and hence there is a continuing important role for religious institutions to provide the small group association that we need for other purposes, and a "plausibility structure" (justification by apparent authority) for our experience with the sacred.

My Commentary

Berger's analysis is helpful in terms of identifying different segments of the religious marketplace that will respond differently to what Religious Naturalism (RN) has to offer. As noted below, this is complicated by the fact that each tradition, denomination and congregation will have representatives from each segment within it. And even in individual believers we will find elements of each form of thought described above. It will be more a question of which is dominant over which aspects of the individual's belief system.

I see the inductive approach as more an extension of the reductive than a separate category. That is, the inductive approach will also accept science and other secular sources of interpreting experience as authoritative. I observe that the older a tradition is the more likely it is to have incorporated inductive elements. For example, of the religious traditions I know Judaism is the most "praxis" and the least theologically inclined. Its stories are also the oldest and hence easiest to metaphorize. And its history has humbled its theology, for the most part. However, a review of the Midrash (among other things) shows that this has not always been the case, and there are parts of the contemporary Jewish community that still take theology very seriously. And at the other end of the spectrum we have our friend Rabbi Oler and his association of humanist synagogues. Much of Catholocism, despite protestations from the top, is also more praxis than ideological. Others could perhaps comment regarding how the Eastern traditions run along this axis.

The important distinction for those interested in encouraging the acceptance of RN is that between the deductive v. reductive/inductive. This is, as just noted, because the deductionists have surrendered much less authority to science and other secular sources of knowledge than have the reductionists/inductionists. The deductionists seek to turn back the clock (or keep it from advancing) in terms of who has authority to speak with regard to various matters. So, the critical question to address in deciding how to approach a particular person or group is likely, "How deductive are they, and about which issues?" Selling RN in the deductive market will be much trickier than elsewhere. That topic is complex enough that I won't broach it here.

Adding the inductive to the reductive approach is, in my view, relatively easy for the reasons noted above. And I see RN as particularly well suited to doing that. This is, largely, how I interpret Ursula's book "The Sacred Depths of Nature". In addition to reductively "translating" some religious terms, it brings a new-to-many-people understanding of evolutionary biology that sacralizes our perception of ourselves, life in general and physical reality in precisely the sense Berger indicates. It assumes an immanent perspective to the sacred while encouraging sacred feelings through the contemplation of the miracle that is life in the context of reality as we are now justified to apprehend it. In this sense, it can be understood as doing little more than helping us to better understand the scope of the immanence sacred. This is why Ursula's version of the RN message is so welcome in certain quarters. It helps people with a reductive point of view to resacralize. And since Ursula would threaten those who resist the authority of science, and hence I don't hear of her being invited to Evangelical congregations.

This analysis has helped me to understand something that has long puzzled me about Mormonism and that I believe is central to understanding how to deal with the deductive faiths in general. Mormonism is mostly deductive in a sense, but it is not really "neo-orthodox" because it is young enough never to have been anything but orthodox. However, Mormonism has dealt with many issues over the years that have forced it to deliteralize certain of its beliefs, and it is at present beginning to grapple with the deliteralization of its core mythology - that related to Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon. Within Mormonism, however, deliteralization has never moved from the academic fringe into the mainstream and where accepted has been largely treated as a kind of secret gnosis - a "meat" for which the masses are not ready. Recently, signs of the inductive approach have also appeared within the Mormon intellectual fringe and are also Gnostic in the sense just indicated. It is my view that many of Mormonism's highest leaders are aware that the reductive and inductive process is underway and recognize it as necessary to a degree since many Mormon myths are young enough that they can be falsified in the scientific sense. So reduction and induction may be the lesser of evils in some cases, as they have been found to be by large branches of Christianity. However, Mormon leaders are trying to manage this process so that they minimize their loss of their influence. They are doing many things in this regard. I won't bore you here with examples. Suffice it to note that as long as they are helped to hang onto their congregants, they will be much less inclined to resist what RN has to offer while not going out of their way to preach it from the pulpit.

While I liked most of Berger's analysis, from what I read it overemphasized both the permanence and importance of sacred "reality". While humans share a common tendency to feel what scholars like Schleiermacher, Durkheim, Otto and James have so well described, the nature of the sacred experience in my view radically changes once we shift from a transcendent to an immanent perspective. Berger hits this nail on the head when he described the feeling of freedom, power and "aloneness" that accompanies modernity, and then he somehow returns to the essence of the "sacred" experience as his social and individual lynchpin. Perhaps I just don't understand him yet, but what so far what I have understood does not work for me. And in my view, secular experience in parts of Europe and Canada indicate that people adjust to their loss of traditional conceptions of the "sacred other" and having done so, regard those as bizarre impositions.

I would prefer to adjust Berger's analysis (as I understand it from what is admittedly no more than a survey of his thought) to include reference to another kind of reality - objective physical and social reality as we are justified from time to time in apprehending them. This understanding So, I would modify Berger's final synthesis as follows.

We understand that there is a difference between the objective physical and social reality of which we are a part and our subjective complex of perceptions, wishes and desires. Our journey through the uncertainty of modern life is stabilized by our understanding, refined by as many well-tested points of view as possible, that:
  • we are interconnected to that reality
  • these interconnections inspire in us feelings that we have in common to large degree with all of humanity, including wonder, reverence and terror, as reality unfolds in understandable as well as inscrutable ways before us;
  • our actions have profound short and long term effects on those we love, all other life forms of which we are aware, and many other aspects of physical realty; and
  • a concerted effort is now required of us if we wish to preserve life as we know it.
We recognize our heritage as small group animals and hence acknowledge our need for companionship and in particular, sharing our most important meanings and purposes with other humans outside of our families. We also acknowledge our hierarchical nature and hence inclination toward authority. Thus, we recognize the role of social (including religious) institutions in providing a structure and "plausibility structure" within which we can have some of our most meaningful experiences.


Peter Berger, The Heretical Imperative, (1979).
Peter Berger, A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (1992)
Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy, (1969)
Emil Durkheim, Sociology and Philosophy, (1974:48).
Phillip Hammond, Religion in the Modern World, in James Davidson Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay (eds.) Making Sense of Modern Times (p. 143-158) (1986).
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, (1902:38)
Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, (1958)
Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion - Speeches to its Cultural Despisers (1988) [1799].
Donald S. Swenson, Society, Spirituality and the Sacred - A Social Scientific Introduction, (1999).
Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations, (1947).
Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, (1963).
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Personal Mythologies And The DSM - IV
Monday, Sep 19, 2005, at 06:52 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
One of the projects I have had going for some time is that of putting together a manual for people undergoing the crisis of conservative or fundamentalist religious faith through which I went a few years ago. Hence, when I run across material that is relevant to that topic, I file it away. Last night while doing some reading unrelated to that topic, I stumbled across some interesting information in that regard that may be of interest to some here.

I was not aware that the DSM - IV has a category dealing with religious or spiritual crises. See David Lukoff (see is one of the drivers in this field. Several of his publications deal with the importance of the narrative self, and "personal mythologies" to sound mental health. A disruption one's personal mythology related to religion can cause a form of mental dysfunction that is dealt with by the DSM - IV.

For an online summary of some of Lukoff's views regarding the restructuring of personal mythologies in the wake of foundational changes in religious perspective, see As I read this and then thought about it last night, it seemd to me that Lukoff has nicely summarized the process through which I went, and in my case, the personal mythology that made the most sense was the Religious Naturalism (RN) story that Ursula Goodenough tells so well (See "The Sacred Depths of Nature") tells so well. I had worked out 90% of that on my own by reading Einstein and others before I knew anything about RN, and so when I ran into Ursula's book a few months ago, and then ended up at Star Island (See, it was liking walking into a reunion for a high school I had forgotten thatI had attended.

The DSM - IV does not (as far as I can tell) come close to prescribing something like RN as a personal mythology. Indeed, it seems to leave the door open to many types of mythology, as long as they take the patient in the direction of better mental health. I was troubled by some aspects of Lukoff's presentation. For example, the use of the term "non-consensual reality" is problematic for me. He seems to be saying that odd non-consensual realities (like, for example, the kind of think David Hufford was describing on Star Island re. sleep paralysis) should be accepted as real in some way that I don't yet understand as long as they don't interfere with one's ability to deal with consensual reality in a socially acceptable way. I don't know enough about how Lukoff thinks the interface between those two "realities" works to at this point to more than sound a cautionary note. Too much of psychotherapy, from what I can tell, relies upon the placebo affect and invites patients to infer realities that do not exist because something seems to "work". Once started down that path, the likelihood of magical thinking is too high to be healthy, in my view.

Without trying to exhaustively analyze what Lukoff has to say, it seem to me that the manner in which the DSM-IV deals with religious issues invites RN to present a treatment modality, grounded in the kind of personal mythology Lukoff says is necessary to mental health (and here I am on all fours with him), that has many advantages in terms of grounding the patient in the most reliable epistemic and ontological foundation the world has to offer at this juncture while at the same time dealing with crisis. And if this works for clinical cases, why would not not work for the many sub-clinical cases? This approach, I would argue, is most likely to help the patient to develop the means to protect herself against her own weaknesses and the occasionally human proclivity to take advantage of the weak. Etc.

Yesterday and today are close to perfect days in the Canadian Rocky Mountain foothills. Fall here is more an event than a season. The nights cool and the leaves change color and fall in a couple of weeks. We are in the midst of these weeks now. Nights near freezing. Indian summer days. Color everywhere. Bugs dead. Little wind. Close to perfection. It is good to be alive.


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When are we justified in thinking that we "know: something?: A Case Study regarding Martha Beck and "Leaving the Saints"
Monday, Sep 26, 2005, at 08:22 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I posted something this morning at relative to Beck and her well-worth-reading book. A little while ago I received an email form someone whose views I respect politely taking me to task for some aspects of what I said there. Since I think that my response outlines some things that are important regarding how we think we come to “know” things relative to whatever moves us powerfully at the emotional level, I will reproduce here some of what I said to my friend, edited to make it appropriate to this forum.

All the best,


My friend started out by asking me to read something related to Elizabeth Loftus (she is referred to extensively in my review of Martha’s book at

I replied:

Thanks for that. I have read a lot about Loftus and the Jane Doe case, but had not read that. I don't think, however, that it changes anything with regard to the recovered memory issue. Here is the quote I like best in that regard (from my review):

“Are repressed memories accurate? Both those who argue that repressed memories are always false and those who argue that repressed memories are always true (because, like the fly caught in amber, they are solidified and impervious to later contamination by influence or suggestion) appear to be mistaken. Although the science is limited on this issue, the only three relevant studies conclude that repressed memories are no more and no less accurate than continuous memories (Dalenberg, 1996; Widom and Morris, 1997; Williams, 1995). Thus, courts and therapists should consider repressed memories no differently than they consider ordinary memories.

“The science clearly directs us away from the distracting issue of the existence of repressed memories, and toward the psychologically and legally significant issue of the validity of particular memories. The therapy room and the courtroom both benefit from distinguishing true and false memories (Scheflin, 1998). The science of memory shows that 1) memory is remarkably accurate for the gist of events, and less accurate for peripheral details; 2) all memories, repressed or continually remembered, may be influenced by later events or by the method of retrieval; and 3) all memories, whether implicit or explicit, may exert an influence on behavior (Schacter, 1999). With a renewed concentration on how memories are retrieved or influenced, therapists and lawyers might again be able to work as associates, not adversaries.” (see

What we are really talking about is when a person is justified in believing that something did, or did not, happen. This is of course central to the formation of all beliefs, including our beloved Mormon beliefs (as they were). So, let me reframe our discussion of Beck's book along those lines.

I agree with most of what you said re. the consistency of her symptomology, etc. to that of people who have suffered sexual abuse. But the woman has a PhD in sociology. She has read all kinds of self-help books as well as academic research. Her memories were recovered during the height of this issues publicity in Utah. For some background on that topic, see Are we not believe that Martha was not familiar with what "worked" and did not work from a symptomology point of view? And we need look no further than her book itself to find evidence that she remembers things selectively and in Technicolor as required to spice up a story. Her trauma and the way human memory functions in general could easily do the rest that was needed to produce her story. And again, I am not saying that they did. I am saying that they well could, and she has not discharged her burden of proof in that regard as far as I am concerned. So, I am not prepared to say that just because she told the story in a manner consistent with how it is told by people who are proven to some degree of certainty to have been abused means that she was also abused.

I am familiar with her evidence re. vaginal scarring, and mentioned it in my review several times. The point there is that she asserts something that could be interpreted in many ways, and the physical evidence could range widely in nature once it is actually examined. One would need medical expert testimony to see what the evidence actually indicates.

I agree with your analysis of why kids who have been abused often repress their memories. However, the probability of anyone remembering an emotionally charged event accurately is far less likely than remembering a less emotionally charged event accurately. And, the probability of remembering more than the "gist" of any event accurately is remote. Nonetheless, we are inclined toward certainty in our memories.

So, are kids abused? Absolutely. It is hard to figure out what happened? Terrifically hard. By chance, last night I was at the memorial service for one of my partners (cancer; 50; very sad; wonderful service without a single mention of god) and spent half an hour chatting with a family court judge. She was talking about some of her recent cases in which child sexual abuse is an issue. This is abuse that is either alleged to be occuring now, or in the recent past, and is part of the landscape for custody battles. She made a number of comments that were telling. First, the incidence of this allegation has skyrocketed during the last 15 years. She believes that in a high percentage of the cases the allegations are false, but does not accuse anyone of lying. She is well versed in the memory research. I was surprised, and pleased, by how well informed she was re Loftus and other researchers. She believes that the emotional turmoil of the divorce and custody battle causes both spouses to use anything they can get their hands on as weapons and warps their perceptions of reality. The kids are caught in the middle and have things suggested to them by well meaning parents and others. Most counselors in the larger centers do a pretty good job avoiding this (because of the publicity people like Loftus gave to the false recovered memory thing years ago), but in the smaller centers some of the counseling is off the wall.

This is what I thought as I listened to this wise woman last night - If it is so hard for someone with the tools of the court at her disposal, whose job it is every day to find out "what happened", to get comfortable with what happened six months ago (or even a few weeks ago) in a sexual abuse allegation case, it seems a real stretch for those who are inclined toward certainty in something like the Beck case before the relevant evidence has even been gathered or tested.

You suggested that the "alien abduction" scenario gives the argument against recovered memories an unwarranted pejorative twist. I think that you and I are emphasizing different aspects of the alien abduction research. McNally started in that area looking at recovered memory and ended up studying sleep paralysis. That is the axis that interests me, because there is a link there that has strong predictive ability. If someone shows the physical symptoms related to sleep paralysis and has certain terrifying memories, we should be more skeptical of what they have remembered. That does not mean that we dismiss their story, but we should be more skeptical. I think it is fair to point out that for people who exhibit the sleep paralysis symptoms (rooted in a REM sleep dysfunction) we should not be skeptical of those who report alien abductions but not bat an eye at those who report sexual abuse. Indeed, alien abduction reports often include sexual abuse of ritual and other types.

On the other hand, where sleep paralysis does not seem to be relevant we should not use what the research in that area has shown to cast more doubt than already exists on those who report sexual abuse. The important thing here is that we have some traction regarding sleep paralysis in things that can be medically tested. If we can use this, great. If not, it is not helpful as a diagnostic tool. Perhaps I did not make that clear enough in what I posted earlier.

I agree that the alien abduction stuff could be used inappropriately, and as noted above I would be critical of anyone who attempted to wave that flag over someone's story so as to dismiss it without a fair hearing. Martha will get the most fair hearing you can imagine from me. It is still going on. But she will not get me to accept her story with regard to something as earth shattering as an incest allegation without more than the assertion of incomplete and untested evidence. By "incomplete" I mean that the other side of the story has not been heard. One of the first things one learns as a lawyer is that your clients’ case is usually at its best just after you have heard it from your clients. This is not because all your clients are liars, it is because the nature of human beings it to perceive reality so as to justify their day-to-day actions and overall way of life. So, as the other side's story comes out and evidence is tested, I ALWAYS expect the story my client told me to change and usually to weaken.

The alien abduction stuff is also relevant because it shows how moving things that only happen in our heads can be. We should expect some experiences of this nature of be utterly compelling. This is a cautionary flag that we should raise for all to see, not just with regard to Beck but with regard to all life events that have powerful emotional content, such as many linked to our Mormon experience. They are the ones most likely to be misinterpreted along axes most likely to justify our dominant social drivers. This is what puts Mormons into denial regarding many aspects of their history and culture, for example. Again, I don't suggest that Martha is doing this. I am pointing out a broad based phenomena that affect the standards of justified belief with regard to particular phenomena. Anyone who comes forward with the kind of allegation Martha has should bear a heavy onus of proof. Until she has met it, the responsible thing to do if one does not have to make a decision is to hold fire. And I say this with theutmost respect for her personally and the work she has done and is going on various fronts. This may be a little like Mike Quinn, or Newton for that matter. Martha Beck’s reputation and utility as a scholar or person does not stand or fall in my mind on whether she is accurate in her recollection of what happened between her and her father. History is full of people who made profoundly important contributions in certain areas while being utterly mistaken about other (usually emotionally laden) things, while acting in good faith.

I note that Martha could have told her story differently. You would enjoy Karen Armstrong's "The Spiral Staircase" (about leaving a Catholic nunnery) I am sure, which is much more measured than "Leaving the Saints". Martha could have said: "Here is what I remember. I remember it vividly. It is more real than anything else I have ever experienced. I believe that it happened. I am also aware of alien abductions etc. that seem more real than real. If this did not really happen to me, then it is evidence of how badly twisted I was by the experience of growing up Mormon as the daughter of Hugh Nibley. But in any event, here is my story." By not taking that detached, and more credible point of view, and by using unwarranted hyperbole throughout the book, she has dramatically weakened the strength of her presentation.

So, I think her story is plausible, but there are many ways in which the evidence could be tested, and would be tested either if she tried to make her claim of incest legally stick, or her family tried to make sure it was laid to rest another way. So, I accept that Martha’s story is consistent with having been abused, if not exactly as she indicates then in some other way. I also accept that her story is consistent with sexual abuse. But remember my judge friend. Once you get to testing evidence, cross-examining etc., the picture usually gets foggier in her experience, not clearer. This is my experience as well. This is a function of the heavy emotional waters in which the judge deals with these issues. The waters in which Martha swam were not just heavy, they were abusive from an emotional point of view. So we should proceed with great care.

I am sensitive to the charge that by taking the approach I am I will re-victimize people who have been harmed. I think that we should take care to protect those who need protecting. My judge friend errs on the side of protecting children who might be at risk. That is the right thing to do with phenomena about what we cannot be reasonably certain. So those who may be at risk should be protected. And all of us should be educated as to how our minds work so that we can made better decisions as to what and when to believe, and of what and when to be more skeptical.

And I note that I find myself in the odd position of defending the agnostic position re. Beck's story against smart people (like you) who evidence sound critical thinking skills in many areas, and yet who seem to me to be either unduly certain that "it" did, or did not, happen based on the extant evidence. As is usually the case these days when I see certainty where I don't believe it to be warranted, I look for emotional issues that might be clouding otherwise clear minds. In the case of the newspaper editor I mentioned in my post, I think I know what those issues may be. Am I off base in your case if I suggest the same sort of thing might be in operation?

I do not have a personal stake in sexual or other forms of physical abuse (of which I am aware, anyway). So, I am not clouded by emotion on this issue and have done my best to research it as I would a legal case. I have been wrong before and may be wrong now, but nothing I have seen so far warrants certainty in this case.

Thanks for writing. I respect you and have learned from each of our exchanges.

All the best,

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A Few Therapy Ideas For Recovering Mormons
Friday, Oct 14, 2005, at 07:36 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
A Few Therapy Ideas for Recovering Mormons bob mccue October 13, 2005

We may define therapy as a search for value. Abraham Maslow


See and for a summary of information related to recovery from the kind of spiritual crisis many of us pass through as we leave Mormonism. This is based on the DSM – IV, the manual psychiatrists use to diagnose mental dysfunction. The type of trauma recovering Mormons often experience fits into the DSM – IV definition of “religious or spiritual problem”.

Recovery from spiritual trauma, such as that caused by discovering that basic religious beliefs are false, requires that we “restory” ourselves. That is, through ingesting new kinds of information, talking with people we trust about both our old way of perceiving ourselves and reality (our “personal mythology”) and new possibilities in that regard, we eventually become comfortable with a new way of seeing ourselves and our place in the world – we find a new personal mythology or narrative.

Some psychiatrists recommend that it is useful from a therapeutic point of view to develop our creative abilities while going through the restorying process. I have found drawing helpful in that regard. See “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” at for a great way to learn to draw. It is psychology based, and teaches us how to suppress the functioning of the symbol based left side of the brain, and allow the creative and more accurately perceptive right side to dominate. As Dr. Betty Edwards (author of “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”) puts it, she teaches people a new way of seeing that causes them to be able to draw. I experienced this during the first two hours I spent on her course. It was a fascinating experience during which I produced for the first time in my life drawings that resembled what I was trying to draw. Those who have seen my lack of talent in this regard demonstrated (including my wife) regard these drawings as near miraculous. That is not to say that they are remarkable for anyone but me. But relative to all else I have done in that regard, they are amazing.

The feeling that results from doing the left brain suppression exercises Edwards prescribes as a prelude to drawing closely resembles the mental state associated with yoga and certain types of meditation. The symbol based, left brain is what allows us to make quick decisions and is where the simplifying assumptions we make about the world reside, including those related to religious and other cultural beliefs. It therefore can be thought of as housing much of our personally mythology. As we suppress it, we are more able to see things as they are instead as we have been taught to perceive them. This should in most cases help the restorying process along.

During a recent trip to France, my wife and I enjoyed creative writing classes, painting classes and cooking classes. Each of these in different ways required the suppression of the left brain so that the right brain could both perceive what was before us and resurrect memories in ways that the left brain cannot. We both experienced a minor rebirth as a result. It is not surprising to me that this kind of activity would be recommended by psychiatrists as a useful aid to those who are attempting to reorientate themselves after leaving a belief system like Mormonism.


The DSM - IV (the manual used by psychiatrists to diagnose their patients) provides some interesting perspective with regard to the causes, and recommended treatment, of certain religious or spiritual problems. See for a summary. The purpose of this essay is to outline a few of the key concepts behind the DSM – IV in this regard, and to describe my recent experience using some of the therapies (art and creative writing therapy in particular) that are suggested for persons suffering from trauma related to the religious or spiritual aspects of life.

DSM – IV: “Religious or Spiritual Problem”

The basic ideas behind the DSM IV treatment of spiritual problems are as follows:

· The DSM – IV defines "Religious or Spiritual Problem" as including distressing experiences that involve loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, or questioning of other spiritual values which may not necessarily be related to an organized church or religious institution.

· We conceptualize ourselves by way of stories and the role we play within them. This aspect of ourselves is referred to as the “narrative self”, and the story in which we see ourselves playing a role can be called our "personal mythology".

· In order to have sound mental health, it is essential that we feel secure within a personal mythology. It is through our role within this mythology that we perceive meaning in our lives. Another way to conceptualize this is by way of Yeats “mask” metaphor. See for a summary of this concept.

· A disruption one's personal mythology related to religion can cause a form of mental dysfunction that is dealt with by the DSM - IV. For example, if my personal mythology is derived from Mormonism, I likely perceive myself as doing god’s work here on earth and making many sacrifices in order to do so, and in exchange I am earning wonderful blessings that will mostly come to me and my family after death in the Celestial Kingdom. I perceive the world as dominated by unseen forces of good and evil that are locked in an eternal struggle, and through my action or inaction, good or sinful acts, etc. I can either harness the forces of good through my priesthood and literally subject nature to my will (as long as it is consistent with God’s will), or alternatively if I am not righteous I may fall under the influence of evil forces that can harm and deceive me in many ways. If the beliefs that underpin this belief system are shattered, I should be expected to feel somewhere between disoriented and suicidal. The DSM– IV provides the tools necessary for a psychiatrist to assess the degree of mental dysfunction the kind of trauma I just described has caused in a particular individual. And I note that this is only one of several kinds of spiritual problem that the DSM – IV identifies.

Dr. David Lukoff (see and describes the recovery process with regard to a spiritual trauma such as what should be expected to result from leaving Mormonism. He says that this kind of recovery requires that we learn to “retell” our personal mythology. That is, either the old personal mythology of Mormonism needs to be stretched to become believable and hence workable again, or an entirely new mythology must be developed that will ground and give meaning to the individual. Lukoff suggests that in order to do this, a lot of self expression (talk therapy) is required. Ideally, a therapist who understands the process would be found and a lot of time would be spent allowing the patient to tell the old narrative, explain why it does not work, talk about hopes, dreams and fears,talk about new sources of information that are being ingested as the therapy proceeds, and from all of this reading, talking, thinking, etc. a new personal mythology will eventually emerge, and as time passes, will stabilize.

Here is how Lukoff puts it in part:

“Psychotherapy can be seen as a process of helping clients construct a new narrative, a fresh story of their lives. In this narrative understanding, psychotherapy does not consist in the cathartic healing effect of releasing traumatic repressed events and their emotions, but in reconstructing a person's authentic story. In making interpretations, the therapist retells the patient's stories, and these retellings progressively influence [the] what and how of the stories told by patient. The end product of this interweaving of texts is a radically new, jointly authored story. Or as Hillman describes it, the client comes to therapy to be "restoryed": ‘The patient is in search of a new story, or of reconnecting with her old one. . . .The story needed to be doctored, not her.’ (pp. 17-18).”

Lukoff has nicely summarized the process through which I went. In my case, the personal mythology that made the most sense was the religious naturalism (RN) story that Ursula Goodenough (See "The Sacred Depths of Nature") tells so well. See for sources of basic information in this regard. I had worked out 90% of this on my own by reading Einstein (see for example) and others before I knew anything about RN, and so when I ran into Ursula's book a few months ago, and then ended up at Star Island (See, it was liking walking into a reunion for a high school I had forgotten that I had attended.

Later in the same article, Lukoff provides the following description of a particular kind of spiritual problem that will sound familiar to many post-Mormons:

“Persons transitioning from the "culture of embeddedness" with their teachers into more independent functioning often seek psychotherapeutic help (Bogart, 1992). Vaughan (1987) reports that many individuals who have left destructive spiritual teachers reported that the experience ultimately contributed to their wisdom and maturity through meeting the challenge of restoring their integrity. One such case was described by Bogart (1992):

‘Robert had spent 8 years as the disciple of a teacher from an Asian tradition that emphasized surrender and obedience. Robert had become one of the teacher's attendants, and reported that he "Loved the teacher very much." Yet there were difficulties. … Robert left the community after the guru's sexual and financial misconduct were revealed. Upon leaving, he had intense and at times even paralyzing feelings of betrayal, anger, fear, worthlessness and guilt.

Robert went into psychotherapy with a spiritually sensitive therapist. Later in psychotherapy, he realized that his relationship with the guru replicated his relationship with his father--an angry alcoholic who had humiliated and physically injured Robert, but whose approval he had nevertheless sought. He also worked on major issues around establishing a life outside the structure of the spiritual community and integrating his spiritual beliefs and practices into this new life.’ (adapted from pp. 4-5, 16-17).”

And finally, Lukoff distinguishes between emergencies and the process of spiritual emergence that many people undergo as their religious beliefs change:

“In spiritual emergence, (another term from the transpersonal psychology literature), there is a gradual unfoldment of spiritual potential with minimal disruption in psychological/social/occupational functioning, whereas in spiritual emergency there is significant abrupt disruption in psychological/social/occupational functioning. The Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, describes the process:

‘Spiritual emergence is a kind of birth pang in which you yourself go through to a fuller life, a deeper life, in which some areas in your life that were not yet encompassed by this fullness of life are now integrated or called to be integrated or challenged to be integrated (cited in Bragdon, 1994, p. 18). While less disruptive than spiritual emergencies, emergence can also lead persons to seek out a therapist to help integrate their new spiritual experiences (Grof, 1993).’”

It is common for people emerging from Mormonism to go through what might be called an emergency, and then later settle into a period of emergence that may last for a long time. I hope my emergence never ends. Near the end of his life, the great artist Goya wrote “Aun aprendo” (Yet I learn) on one of his drawings. To this we may all aspire.

Do We Need Therapists?

Many reading this will realize that bulletin boards like those at Recovery from Mormonism, and The View from the Foyer (see perform the role of a therapist, to an extent. I did not go to a therapist, and in fact, the idea that I might do so did not cross my mind. Were I leaving Mormonism now, however, I think I would see if I could find a therapist with experience in a related field and buy some of his or her time. I can see how an experienced therapist with regard to the phenomena described by the DSM – IV could be profoundly helpful, and particularly so during the stage described below when many of us tend to obsess over the details of what went wrong with Mormonism at a time when the therapeutic advice suggests that we disengage fromwrestling with our past for a time and focus on developing our creative potential and ability to see things more as they really are that comes with this. I don’t believe that many people will be capable of doing this without significant support. And I did not realize how much research has been done in this field. The links about point to a number of books that indicate the depth of clinical and theoretical experience that has been developed.

Since I did not have realize that therapy was either available or advisable, I simply spent a ton of time at Recovery from Mormonism and The Foyer and elsewhere reading, writing, thinking, etc. while also reading books, sending emails and speaking with people I trusted. Out of this my personal mythology gradually emerged. But while thrashing around during the process, I would say with the benefit of hindsight that I put unnecessary pressure on a number of important relationships, and may have damaged some of them in ways that are not repairable. Hence, for those who can seek therapy, I think it is advisable. Since I am not in the business of selling therapy, this advice perhaps can bear more weight than it would from a therapist.

Spiritual Emergency v. Spiritual Emergence

I believe that I suffered a spiritual emergency when I discarded my Mormon beliefs. I could think and speak of little else for months. My work suffered. My family life suffered. Etc. Another DSM – IV category that is relevant to this process is posttraumatic stress disorder. Many recovering Mormons show many of the symptoms that define this disorder.

In my case, eventually the emergency passed and a process of spiritual change and growth commenced that is still underway. This still seems like a miracle in many ways from my point of view.

Here is what Lukoff has to say about dealing with the “emergency” aspect of this process:

“However, for spiritual emergencies, most of the models of intervention come from the transpersonal psychology literature. Grof and Grof (1990) recommend that the person temporarily discontinue active inner exploration and all forms of spiritual practice, change their diet to include more "grounding foods" (such as red meat), become involved in very simple grounding activities (such as gardening), engage in regular light exercise (such as walking), and use expressive arts (such as drawing, clay and evocative music) to allow the expression of emotions and experiences through color, forms, sound and movement. In the case described above, Kornfield made use of most of these elements to avoid hospitalizing the individual who entered a spiritual emergency during a meditation retreat. Reliance on the client's self-healing capacities is one of the main principles that guides transpersonal treatment of spiritual emergencies (Perry, 1974; Watson, 1994). In addition, psychologists should be willing to consult, work closely with or even refer to spiritual teachers who may have considerably more expertise in the specific types of crises associated with a given spiritual practice or tradition. Unfortunately mental health professionals rarely consult with religious professionals or spiritual teachers even when dealing religious and spiritual issues (Larson, Hohmann, Kessler, Meador, Boyd, and McSherry, 1988).

Another key component of treatment of spiritual emergencies is normalization of and education about the experience. While this is a common technique in therapy, it plays an especially important role with spiritual emergencies because persons in the midst of spiritual emergencies are often afraid that the unusual nature of their experiences indicates that they are "going crazy" (as described in some of the above cases). An extremely abbreviated version of normalization of an unusual spiritual experience is reported by Jung (1964) in the following case: ‘I vividly recall the case of a professor who had a sudden vision and thought he was insane. He came to see me in a state of complete panic. I simply took a 400-year-old book from the shelf and showed him an old woodcut depicting his very vision. "There's no reason for you to believe that you're insane," I said to him. "They knew about your vision 400 years ago." Whereupon he sat down entirely deflated, but once more normal.’ (p. 69)”

I first note the “normalization” point. That is what brings many people to places like RFM. They seek validation. That is why the storyboard at RFM is so powerful. Mormonism restricts its members from talking about the reality of their experience. The only expressions of belief that are permitted in public are those that support the institution, thus isolating and invalidating all who do not resonate with what is publicly stated. This, over time, causes one’s real feelings to be suppressed and creates an inauthentic manner of relating to reality and other people that can itself cause various forms of psychoses.

However, Lukoff’s suggestion for those in the initial stages of crisis was counter intuitive for me. He did not suggest digging in and figuring things out (as I tried to do), but rather withdrawing from direct contemplation of the problem to engage in what amount to strength building, healing exercises that would create a greater ability to both see and bear reality. I think this idea needs a little reworking to be useful from a Mormon point of view, and here I will take a shot at doing that, as well as describe my resent experience with these modes of therapy.

It seems clear that Lukoff is referring to people who have acknowledged that they have a problem, and so have sought out a therapist. The main problem on the way out of Mormonism is that the organization has its hooks into us in so many different ways that it is not easy to get the point at which one can look herself in the mirror and say, “I have been duped. What am I going to do about it?” A destructive act is required to get to that point. Until that extraordinarily painful destruction occurs, the “patient” will not acknowledge that she is ill and hence will not seek, or in most cases be prepared to accept, treatment. Places like RFM play an important role in providing the information that people on the fringes of Mormonism need to validate their feelings, destroy unjustified beliefs, and find sources of information to start to re-work their personal mythologies. This requires focus on the problem – precisely what Lukoff recommends we avoid while in an emergency state. I think that it is far to say that the state of emergency – if it will become such – will not occur until a person has accepted that his most basic beliefs are false. So, I suggest that Lukoff’s advice be followed as soon as the penny has fully and truly dropped. Until then, it is necessary that the focus be internal – on the issues required to falsify unjustified Mormon beliefs, and particularly, those beliefs in Mormon authority that enable Mormon leaders to be able to control a large percentage of Mormon behaviour.

My moment of truth is described at It is my belief that had I done what Lukoff recommends (disengaged from Mormon studies and began to explore my artistic side), it would have saved months of thrashing around and a lot of stress on some of my most important personal relationships. This belief is based both on what I have read about Lukoff’s theories, and experiences I have had during the past few weeks.

Become As A Little Child

When I came across Lukoff’s essays several months ago, my wife and I were in the process of planning a 25th anniversary trip to the south of France. We had talked about talking some cooking or other creative lessons while on that trip, and reading Lukoff made me decide to intensify that aspect of our experience. We planned to be in France for two weeks, and I am the type who goes into sensory overload if I look at art, architecture etc. all day for days at a time anyway. So, we booked a week at a creative writing course in Martrin with Sharon Colback (I highly recommend it and will write more later about that experience in particular – see and a week of painting and cooking courses at Saignon with Andrew Petrov and Marcia Mitchell (near Avignon – see Again, I highly recommend this experience.

My creative writing skills are limited, I have never applied paint to canvass, and my cooking goes no further than what can be either eaten cold or warmed up. These courses were part of a conscious effort to put myself into new and uncomfortable territory. My wife Juli has long aspired to be a writer and has taken a writing course. She took her first painting class and art history class this summer and loves to cook in creative ways, particularly when it comes to deserts. So she was more than happy to include these experiences in our trip.

Before finding Lukoff’s papers that are noted above, Juli and I had already decided to incorporate some learning activities into our trip as a result of a lecture I heard Allison Gopnik (UC Berkeley) give last Spring with regard to the difference between adult and child neural functioning. Gopnik indicated that children are more conscious than adults. She used the example of what happens when an adult goes to a new city – let’s say Paris – and experiences a wide variety of new things while falling in love. Falling in love is a very intense form of new experience and one of the few things that can shock an adult human out of the relatively unconscious state in which most adults live. Most people who have experienced what Gopnik describes would agree with her – while in the state induced by new and interesting experiences the whole world seems to pulse with life while our brain is in a child-like learning mode. That is, the requirement that we learn changes our mental state, and makes us more likely to absorb and remember all kinds of things. We become aware of textures, smells, sights and sounds by which we are constantly surrounded but generally speaking unconscious. We are shocked into this state by confronting new stimuli that requires us to use our attentive faculties in ways we generally do not. While in this state, we feel more alive. Gopnik says children live this way to a much greater extent than do adults. This causes their regular displays of wonder and excitement as they encounter new things.

I had often wondered about the way in which the world seemed to come to life for me during my transition out of Mormonism. Gopnik explained that. I was, quite simply, jarred out of my “adult” mode into a child-like state. I was humbled and became anxious to learn. I needed to learn. And so I began to experience many things as a child does, including the sense of wonder and joy at new discovery. This gives new meaning (likely not intended by those who wrote the words) to the scriptural injunction that we should “become as little children.

Gopnik indicated that children are so engaged in exploring and learning that they don't get very much done. To get things done, we need to reduce our actions to largely unconscious, repetitive motions. Think of driving the car, for example. We don't need to think about that. Most of the jobs that we do require similarly low levels of conscious activity. While she did not mention Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi's research with regard to “flow” (see and, her findings are more or less consistent with what they have to say. That is, in order to be both productive and happy we need a balance between doing things that have become so routine we don't need to think about them (and so we get a lot done) and things which challenge us. The ideal mix is just enough challenge to have us continue to learn and have feedback with regardto our progress, combined with an opportunity to do things at which we are already very competent and therefore feel success and productivity. And occasionally it feels great to confront the kind of challenge we did in France, but even then, the challenge must not be so great that it overcomes us, and there must be enough positive feedback to encourage us to keep going even thought our skills are rudimentary. Our instructors structured the experience and provided feedback that was well within these requirements. Hence, we had a great time during our classes, and embarked upon sight seeing expeditions and various social experiences with our hosts and others we got to know along the way with our minds opened by the learning experience we had each morning.

Gopnik indicated that the trade-off between the time it takes to learn and the need to get things done in order for all to survive has resulted in humans evolving so as to have years as children during which they primarily do, and then a period of time as adults during which they spend most of their time getting things done. Children are put in a position where they explore their environment, re-evaluate their environment in fundamental terms and develop the set of skills necessary to cope with their environment. Accordingly, as the environment changes as a result of what adults or nature do, children develop abilities that their parents often did not have. This is an example of co-evolution – the environment changes and the organism (in this case humans) changes in response, which enables it to cause further changes to the environment, and so on. One does not need to look further than the children who were raised with computers when compared to their parents in terms of dealing with the Internet base environment.

“Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain”

Since we had committed to take the painting lessons, I decided that I wanted to learn something about that type of artistic process before going to France. A couple of weeks before going, I bought a book that I had heard about in that regard called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (see It advertised a psychology based approach to drawing that appealed to me, and came with a workbook and step-by-step exercises that made things easy to follow.

My ability to draw has long been a source of hilarity around our family and my office. I am a tax attorney, and have to draw diagrams on white boards during meetings on a regular basis to illustrate the transactions we help people to complete. These require at times symbols for buildings, oil wells, factories, etc. Any child in grade two could do as well as I do in this regard, and I am regularly kidded by my clients and colleagues as a result of the crude nature of my drawings. And my handwriting is illegible. But I was not concerned about becoming a competent artist. Rather, I wanted to have an “outside the box” learning experience that would open my mind in the fashion noted above, and would help in the manner Lukoff suggested. Artistic talent was not required for either of these functions. Nonetheless, several friends who heard that we were going to take painting lessons while in France almost laughed out loud.

I was so busy before we left on our trip that I did not open the drawing book until we were on the place flying to Toronto for a few days of business meetings before leaving for France. During the course of a four-hour flight, I read a few chapters in the book, and did the first three exercises. The result was astonishing.

Dr. Betty Edwards is the book’s author. She developed her approach as a high school teacher in California, and then turned it into a PhD thesis at UCLA where she later taught for many years. She developed her approach on the basis of the “left brain” – “right brain” research produced by Dr. Roger Sperry, who won a Nobel Prize for his research. While this area of study is still controversial and the version Edwards used is now out of date, for her purposes it works well. She quotes Richard Bergland, a well-known neurosurgeon, as follows:

"You have two brains: a left and a right. Modern brain scientists now know that your left brain is your verbal and rational brain; it thinks serially and reduces its thoughts to numbers, letters and words… Your right brain is your nonverbal and intuitive brain; it thinks in patterns, or pictures, composed of ‘whole things,’ and does not comprehend reductions, either numbers, letters, or words." (“The Fabric of Mind”, Viking Penguin, Inc., New York 1985. p.1)

That is, the left brain uses symbols. It does not see things as they are, but uses simplified versions of reality that can be quickly manipulated to get things done. The right brain, on the other hand, sees things more as they are both as wholes and in relationship to each other. It also perceives the patterns that provide the basis for our sense of meaning.

Edwards says that she teaches people a new way of seeing that causes them to be able to draw. She does this by showing us how to suppress the functioning of the symbol based left side of the brain, and allow the creative and more accurately perceptive right side to dominate. In this regard, her techniques closely resemble certain types of meditation that are designed to quiet the “chattering” that goes on continually in our minds. I could feel this quieting occur as I did some of her exercises.

The symbol based left brain is what allows us to make quick decisions and is where the simplifying assumptions we make about the world reside, including those related to religious and other cultural beliefs. As the left brain functioning is suppressed, we are more able to see things as they are instead as we have been taught to perceive them. The experience of trying to perceive an object, like a cathedral I sketched while we were in France, while the left brain is declining in influence and the right brain is taking the stage, is like watching while a curtain is pulled back and a new view opens up. As this occurs, the left brain’s chattering quiets and we pass into a quasi-meditative state.

Edward’s teaching system uses various techniques to disable the left side of the brain. For example, the first and most striking exercise I did involved turning a Picasso drawing of the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky upside down and attempting to copy it. Were the painting right side up, our dominant left brain would recognize “hand”, “foot”, “face”, etc. and would provide us with the symbols for those things. This leads to the childish drawings most of us produce. However, once the drawing is upside down, the left side of the brain does not recognize its parts in the same way, and disengages. This allows the right side of the brain to take over and allow us to see the lines in front of us as they really are instead, and more or less accurately reproduce a complicated drawing.

For me, the result was stunning. I almost woke my wife up (she was sleeping in the airplane seat beside me) to show her. And for the next two days, as I sat in a large conference hall during meetings that required very of my attention, I sketched things in the room around me. Chandeliers. Water pitchers. Pictures from newspapers, including human faces and other body parts. My own hand with the fingers pointed toward me in a claw like posture. None of these were wonderful works of art, but they were reasonable representations of what I was trying to draw. This was new territory for me. And each time I started to draw, I could feel myself entering a semi-trance of the kind I have come to associate with meditation.

Creative Writing

I am not going to try to give even a partial account of the wonderful five days we spent with Sharon Colback and two other students at Martrin, a small town near Millau in the neighborhood of France’s Tarn Valley. However, I note that many of the exercises Sharon led us through were designed to disengage the left side of the brain, though she did not speak of what we were doing in those terms. As I struggled with those exercises, I became painfully aware of how I have been trained to use the left side of my brain to control my perception of life and how much this has caused me to miss. I could feel resistance each time I tried to let go of my need to control the story I was trying to tell; my need to think logically and linearly. This made me think of the relationship between our conscious and subconscious minds.

The subconscious often acts as a kind of filter. It screens out information that would be dangerous to us, for example. This is at the root of denial, and is explained by cognitive dissonance theory (see For example, a woman whose husband is cheating on her will likely be the last to reach that conclusion based on the evidence in front of her. Why? Because if she becomes conscious of this evidence, she will likely take action that may dramatically and negatively (in some ways) change her life. I wondered how much of a connection there was between the left/right brain dichotomy and what I had read before regarding the subconscious and conscious minds. The left brain acts as a kind of filter – a control mechanism. The subconscious does the same thing. So I perhaps should not be surprised that as I learned to take the brakes off my creative process, to reduce the influence of my subconscious and/or left brain filters, some of what came tumbling out was troubling.

Sharon recommended various exercises to enhance our creativity. Here are a few of them.

First, each morning when we awoke we were to write for 15 minutes before doing anything else, and were to write about whatever came into our heads. This could be dreams, what we looked forward to that day, what had happened the day before; whatever. It was critically important that we commit to ourselves before hand that no one would ever read what we were to write during these sessions. She said that sometimes when she did this a stream of profanity emerged. I laughed at that, and wondered out loud what could provoke that kind of language from someone as obviously genteel and cultured as Sharon. A female course-mate assured me that it must be a male of some kind, and Sharon agreed.

In any event, Sharon told us that we were not to reread, even to correct spelling, as we wrote for 15 minutes each morning; that we were to encourage whatever seemed to want to tumble out to do so; and that we were not to go back and re-read it for three weeks.

In another interesting exercise, she had us draw a river on a long sheet of paper in a fashion that would describe our lives, and then write about that. This provoked a few painful realizations, which in turn provoked a torrent of writing. In another, she had us make up characters on the basis of photographs she gave us, and then having created these essentially random characters, to write a dialogue between them. Then, having written the dialogue between them, we were to write a page of description about where they were. Then, we were to at random cut up the dialogue into sentences (or sets of sentences), do the same with the description, and then paste them (again at random) one after another onto an other sheet of paper. Amazingly, each of these made sense with little correction.

By the end of the week, I was getting to the point at which I could simply put my head down and write – just let a story rip out of me. Sharon emphasized the importance of allowing ourselves the liberty of writing a “shitty first draft” – of just letting go; letting whatever was there pour out. As already noted, I resisted that, but eventually the kind of random pouring out that Sharon’s exercises caused helped me get into a mental space were I could just let it rip. And as I did so, I recognized the same semi-trance that I have felt while doing my drawing exercises. There was a similar quieting of the left brain; elevation of the right brain (and perhaps the subconscious). What a fascinating process.

Because of the intensely creative nature of the exercises Sharon led us through, and probably the chemistry of the group, we became very close to the other people we shared our time with while at Sharon’s. And we became close to Sharon as well. We had a great time stumping around the French countryside together and will likely see each of these people again at some point. We have suggested a group reunion in Canada.


Given the fun I had with drawing, I was looking forward to the painting lessons perhaps more than anything else we had scheduled to do in France. Andrew Petrov was our instructor. He is an accomplished painter from Washington D.C. who has been living in France for about five years. He introduced us to yet another kind of letting go that without any question uses the same kind of left brain – right brain mechanism Edwards so nicely describes.

We had three mornings painting with Andrew. During the first he gave a little basic instruction about how oil painting works; how to mix colors; how to complement colors; and how to “paint falsehood with accents of truth”. This last statement to the better part of two days for me to grasp.

Just as I tended while writing toward trying to control the flow of the story (going back to correct and re-write instead of just letting it tumble out), while painting I tended to try to quickly represent what I saw before me. Our first painting, for example, was of a Roman bridge near Apt called “Pont Julien”. From the beginning of the morning, I was trying to get something that looked like the bridge on the canvass, and Andrew was slopping paint on what I thought was a good start in that direction. He wanted layers of color on the canvass. He wanted no lines; he wanted no clear edges (he was continually pulling colors I had purposely separated into each other, creating what appeared to me to be a mess). And then after a great deal of work had been done, he would slop paint all over what I had done and I would be required to start over. And from this random mess, eventually a reasonable bridge emerged. Not where I had planned. Not the part of what I had started out trying to capture. But a pleasing representation of the bridge nonetheless. And behind it, and its various backgrounds, peeked an array of hints of color as a result of the many things I had tried and Andrew had forced me to more or less cover.

“A little like life”, it eventually occurred to me. Lots of randomness. Does not proceed logically. Extremely forgiving. No need to rush, in fact most things turn out better with more time and patience. Most mistakes can be erased or painted over. At one crucial moment, I asked Andrew for some help and pointed carefully to the spot on the painting that was troubling me. He said, “You mean here?” and with his brush slopped a different color of paint over fully 1/3rd of the painting. And within 30 minutes what had initially seemed like a horrifying scar over my blossoming bridge has been absorbed seamless, and surprisingly, into the painting.

I sum up Andrew’s lessons as follows:

· Delay “ego painting” for as long as possible. Ego painting is the clear lines and visible brush strokes that finally bring definition to the painting and stoke it with the artist’s personality. This is like good foreplay before sexual intimacy – the longer the delay the more satisfying the result.

· Ask, “What is the essence of what I am seeing” when you look at your subject. Squint at it. What stands out? Think about what attracts you to it. Ask the question of yourself out loud. Andrew says that he regularly mutters to himself while he paints to get the brain moving outside its usual grooves.

· Regularly squint at your subject to see its important features. That is how we can tell what is really light and dark. That is how we can tell where to emphasize light and shadow. Only the essence stands out through the squint.

· Don’t worry about mistakes. Just get your feelings on the canvass. Don’t be afraid of “shitty first drafts”. You can erase paint. You can paint over. Just let it rip.

· Let go of ideas related to definite form. Paint what you feel in terms of color and shape, and with amazing frequency when you stand back to view the painting at a distance, you will capture the essence of what you want to represent. All you have to do is get the back relationships right. Relative size. Relative brightness or darkness. Relative location. And don’t be too precise.

· Our symbol brain (the left side) is generally what we use when looking at a painting. Hence, shapes do not have to be precise in order to be interpreted by the brain as what we want to them to be. We just have to get close, and our symbol brains and imaginations will do the rest.

· Never leave a clear edge. Our brain knows edges are clean and so our left brain interprets them as clean. But when we look carefully enough to overcome the left brain, our right brain tells us that all edges are fuzzy. And the further away they are, the more fuzzy. So paint them all fuzzy. And overemphasize what you want to stand out.

· Less is often more. Restricting a painting to a limited color pallet often makes it more brilliant as we choose colors to evoke what we feel instead of copying what we see. This was driven home from me both when Andrew made us substitute black for blue one day, and then the next when in the market we saw some brilliant black and white photography of the region, alongside color photographs. The black and whites were far more compelling than their brilliantly coloured counterparts. This was in part because of the quality of the photographer, and in part because the absence of color brought out the essence of the forms involved, which were striking. Old stone architecture; sheppards moving their sheep through fields; etc.

Recovering Mormon Therapy

Developing the ability to use the right side of the brain has powerful therapeutic benefits for those who are recovering from the effects of a domineering institution like Mormonism and are trying to develop a new personal mythology or worldview. And I can see particular wisdom in pulling away from the analysis of Mormonism once the crisis has been reached and we have accepted that our belief system is in disarray. At that point, as we begin to develop a new worldview, it is more important than ever that we perceive things accurately, as wholes, in their essences, and as they relate to each other, instead of as booming, buzzing details.

The disciplines of drawing, painting and creative writing as I experienced them in France each in different ways tended to suppress my tendency to see, think and feel as I have been taught, and enabled me to see and feel more of what was in front of me; of what was essential about the scene in front of me; and perhaps most importantly, to reinterpret various incidents in my past and to see new ways of dealing with both life as it is now and as it will become. It makes sense to me that this process would both help to calm the emergency, and would become wonderful creative fodder during the creation of a new world view.

I note in particular the analogy between what Lukoff recommends for those who are in a state of spiritual emergency and what I was being taught to do in different ways while learning to draw, write creatively and paint. Lukoff says, in essence, “Stop trying to understand the thing through analysis, introspection, etc. Just let it be. Go draw, paint, jog, garden. Be good to yourself. Don’t be strict with yourself. Don’t worry. Be happy.”

And from each of our art and writing instructors I heard continually in a variety of different ways, “let go”. They told me to stop trying to control my story. Let it tell itself. Let it tumble out. Accept, even embrace, a “shitty first draft”. Concentrate on what is really there in front of you. Keep asking yourself, “what do I see?” Squint at it. Move around and look at it from different angles. Ask out loud why it appeals to you. Play with it and how it makes you feel. Just throw paint on the canvass in shapes and colors that seem consistent with how you feel, not what you see. And don’t worry about how it looks because you can always fix it later. Let it stay in the realm of feeling and vague image for as long as possible because there it will develop in ways that will often surprise you.

Restorying ourselves is the ultimate creative, artistic act. Our palate is life itself, both already lived and as we can imagine it. We paint with our own blood and tears; write with our dreams. The more of ourselves and the reality around us we can perceive – in essence rather than detail – the more satisfying the story will be and the more authentic the role in which we can cast ourselves. Nothing makes more sense to me now than developing our ability to use the right side of the brain as we reframe our relationship to ourselves and the world, and chart our path through life as the story unfolds.

I told myself several years ago after taking the first big steps out of Mormonism that I would never again allow myself to be convinced that anything was absolutely, unshakably true. I still feel that way. What I did not realize, however, that this attitude requires of me a continual restorying. As long as I live and continue to have energy, I will be redefining myself and my relationship to the world around me. This will largely be a function of becoming more self aware, and aware of my relationship to the people around me and other aspects of my environment. The biggest revelation of the past few weeks is of the critical nature that the disciplines to which I was exposed while in France will play in this process.

The process of becoming more self-aware is like peeling an onion. Trying to see and feel like an artist, and then creating something (anything), teaches us to suppress our prejudices in ways that will be helpful in allowing more of what is in our subconscious to come to the surface and more of the reality around us to be appreciated instead of sliding by. This excites me, and does not require anything of me beyond some time. I do not need to become an artist to gain the benefits I just described. All I have to do is act like an artist. This is what will teach me about both myself and anything else I care to consider. It does not matter if I ever produce anything that anyone else will like.

As Juli and I were wondering whether we could have taken the same kind of courses in Calgary or somewhere close to home and benefited in similar ways from the exercise, she suggested that the fact that it was hard while in France to avoid being reminded that the world is full of different possibilities was helpful. The streets are narrow. The houses and other buildings look different. The people speak a language that we don’t understand. The food is different. The experience of recovering from jet lag is itself a kind of rebirth that gives the impression that one has emerged into a new world.

I agreed with her. The environment we chose for this experiment in creativity was close to ideal for our purposes. However, we cannot go to France often, and thankfully there are many opportunities to write, draw, paint, etc. around us where we live. We have both
topic image
Draft Submission To Newsweek's "My Turn" Re: Joseph Smith's Birthday And Mormonism
Tuesday, Oct 18, 2005, at 08:22 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
On another thread, someone made the useful suggestion that I turn a letter to the editor I wrote to Newsweek re. Soukup's "Mormon Odyssey" article into an essay submission to Newsweek's "My Turn" feature. 900 word limit. 150 submitted each week, from which one is chosen. Long odds, but what the hell.

Those of you who know how long winded I tend to be can imagine how hard it was for me to choose the 900 best words to pick apart Mormonism.

Here it is. Feedback appreciated. I will submit it in the next day or two.



Joseph Smith, Jr. – Mormonism’s Founding Prophet Would You Buy A Used Car From This Man?

December 23, 2005 is Joseph Smith’s 200th birthday. As a result there has recently been a flurry of reporting with regard to Mormonism and Smith’s contribution to it.

Smith’s life will eventually become a great movie - lots of sex, deception, religious fervour, the rise of a powerful new religion, a run for the Presidency of the United States, and in the end Smith was murdered.

In my view, there is one question that takes Smith’s essential measure – “Was Joseph Smith trustworthy?” If so, the amazing stories he told should be taken seriously. If not, he is merely another in a depressingly long line of influential shysters.

Smith’s claims are spectacular. Among other things, he tells us that God appeared to him and commanded him not to join any of the churches then in existence because they were all “abominations”; that an angel gave him golden plates and the power to translate The Book of Mormon from those plates; that the Book of Mormon contains the literal history of God’s dealings with a Christian people who lived in the Americas from 600 BCE to 400 CE; that God sent Peter, James and John as well as John the Baptist, in person, to restore God’s authority by giving it to Smith; and that on many occasions angelic visitors or the voice of God himself came to Smith and taught him what he needed to do as the leader of God’s Kingdom on Earth.

Most of Smith's claims must be accepted or rejected solely on the basis of his trustworthiness. What does the historical record tell us in that regard?

Before Smith became God’s prophet he was a con man. He pretended to be able to see buried treasure in a small brown stone (a “seer” or “peep” stone) into which he looked by putting the stone into the bottom of a hat, covering the hat’s opening with his face and looking at the stone. He would say that he saw treasure buried on a particular property, and sometimes the property’s owner would hire him to dig up the treasure. There is no evidence that he ever found treasure, but he evidently put on quite a show. Not good enough, however, to satisfy all of his treasureless customers – we have court documents related to his conviction on charges of “glass looking” in connection with a failed treasure digging adventure.

It is interesting to note that Smith used the same “stone in a hat” routine to “translate” the Book of Mormon. Smith acknowledged that most of this “translation” occurred without the golden plates being present. See for one of many credible theories with regard to how the Book of Mormon may have come into being.

Smith “married” many women. It appears in some cases that this amounted to no more than sexual intercourse that was labelled “marriage” after the fact. Several of Smith’s “wives” were young girls, others were married at the same time to other men, and in a few cases Smith sent husbands on "missions" for the Mormon Church causing them to leave town just before he propositioned their wives. The worst part of Smith’s polygamy, however, was the manner in which he denied his actions in that regard in public and private, to Mormons and non-Mormons alike, for over a decade. His excuse for this massive deception?; that the people were not ready to hear God’s will. Smith’s lying with regard to his sexual activities established a pattern of Mormon leadership deception referred to as “lying for the Lord” that has dogged Mormonism ever since.

Smith deception was not limited to sexual matters. His mode of government, for example, and other important aspects of his relationship to Mormonism were based on secrecy and deception. It seems clear that Smith believed that his status as God's “prophet” placed him above manmade legal and moral constraints. Leading Mormon historian Michael Quinn has described this as Smith's "theocratic ethics". In a theocracy, which Smith believed himself to lead, God's law (as stated by God's prophet - Smith) trumped all else. Hence, Smith became a law unto himself.

Smith’s record of a translator of ancient documents is telling. He failed in his only verifiable attempts, most notably with regard to the Book of Abraham which is still believed to be Holy Scripture by most Mormons. Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham from certain Egyptian papyrii. His failure as a translator in this regard became apparent long after his death when scholars developed the ability to read Egyptian hyroglyphs. And yet throughout his life Smith proclaimed his ability as a translator with supreme confidence and used his various “translations” as evidence of divine gift that helped him to gain and hold his following.

I have summarized only a few of Smith's noteworthy shortcomings. It seems clear that he was the type of person from whom most people would not wish to buy a used car. However, he was a charismatic huckster who was adept at hiding his history and spinning an exciting, compelling tale. No sooner had one group of followers left him than he found others. And the organization he founded, like many other well-known institutions whose murky roots are long forgotten, is a fascinating study in its own right.

Whatever Mormonism is – and that is far from clear – it is likely not whatever Joseph Smith said it was.
topic image
Continuation Of Draft Joseph Smith Essay For Newsweek Thread
Monday, Oct 24, 2005, at 08:02 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Was Joseph Smith Jr., Mormonism’s Founder, Reliable?
bob mccue
October 18, 2005

Joseph Smith Jr. would have been 200 years old on December 23, 2005. Hence, we are in the midst of a reporting flurry regarding Mormonism. Much of this shows Mormonism at its clean-cut best – attractive families; successful businessmen and politicians; Steve Young; with smiles all-round. And Mormons generally have earned their hardworking, pleasant image. However, the more we know about history the better we can understand the strengths and weaknesses of what we encounter in the present. In that neighbourly spirit, let’s consider a few of Mormonism’s foundational planks.

Joseph Smith’s claims include that God appeared to him and commanded him not to join any church because all were “abominations”; angelic visitors and the voice of God himself regularly guided Smith as he led God’s Kingdom on Earth; and God sent Peter, James and John to give Smith God’s exclusive authority. Then add lots of sex, deception, political intrigue, Smith’s run for the U.S. Presidency and claim to be “King of the Earth”, and millions who today revere him as humanity’s second most important person behind only Christ. This is quite a story.

While there are many ways to interpret Smith, one pedestrian question takes his most important measure: Was he reliable?

Before Smith became God’s prophet he was a convicted con man. Among other things, he pretended to be able to see buried treasure by looking into a small brown stone. People then paid him to find the treasure. Court records describe his conviction on fraud related charges in that regard. This cooled his enthusiasm for treasure seeking.

Then Smith began his prophetic career. He reported that God and Christ appeared to him, and that an angel gave him the golden plates from which he claimed to translate the Book of Mormon. He used his treasure seeking stone to perform this translation, mostly without the golden plates present.

Once accepted as a prophet, Smith exercised the alpha male’s traditional sexual prerogative over his followers. What he eventually called polygamous marriages were often little more than clandestine affairs. Several of Smith’s over thirty “wives” were young girls, others were already married and remained so while consorting with Smith. In a few cases Smith sent husbands out of town on long term Mormon business before propositioning their wives. Rumours of adultery and polygamy swirled around him while he gradually allowed other Mormon leaders to join him in this secret practise. Meanwhile, for over a decade Smith and the others involved denied their behaviour. This lying established a pattern of leadership deception that still dogs Mormonism.

Smith claimed to be able to translate ancient records but failed in his only verifiable attempts. For example, his mistranslation of the Book of Abraham from Egyptian papyri became apparent long after his death when scholars developed the ability to read Egyptian. And over a century of Book of Mormon scholarship has produced little to support its claims, against mountains of disconfirming evidence.

Smith’s tendency to deceive pervaded his mode of civic and church government. And he altered his personal history as well as revelations from God in ways that helped him maintain control over his followers.

While he sometimes admitted error, Smith’s most egregious deceptions were excused on the basis that God told him to lie because it was necessary. This characterized much of what is most troubling about Smith – the ends too often justified the means. In a theocracy God's law, as stated by God's prophet, trumps all. Hence, Smith became a law unto himself.

Disillusioned Mormons left Smith in droves as reality collided with his grandiose claims. But the stories he told on God’s behalf evolved so as to attract new followers. Many who stayed did not understand his shortcomings until they were so committed to Mormonism that they rationalized his deceptive behavior. The study of cognitive dissonance and cognitive bias explain how this works and why it should be expected.

Smith was murdered at a time when Mormonism was stumbling. His martyrdom caused him to become an icon that would be used for often conflicting purposes by the many groups into which his followers splintered. One such group followed Brigham Young to the Utah desert where it grew into mainstream Mormonism.

For leaders like Young, a community building myth about Smith was more useful than Smith’s history, so inconvenient fact tended to be surpressed. Hence, Smith’s deceptive tendencies were not understood until long after Mormonism reached critical mass as an American sub-culture, and even now many well-educated Mormons are unaware of their religion’s questionable beginnings. The current prosperity of many religions with unsavoury pasts illustrates that once a social group has a sufficient head of steam, it takes far more than scandal to stop the train.

However, the tension between Mormon myth and the information rich, Internet world is painful. This causes many Mormons to emphasize more than ever the idea that the powerful emotions they feel while worshipping are God’s voice affirming all Mormon beliefs, and that these feelings are the most trustworthy evidence of reality. The belief taht emotional feeling is a form of knowledge makes Mormons susceptible to manipulation of many kinds, and is likely responsible in part for Utah’s North American leading rate of white collar crime, anti-depressant consumption and several other unflattering social statistics.

So, should Smith be believed? It appears not. But his life coupled with Mormon history presents a gripping, cautionary social parable.
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The Problem With Mormon Authority
Monday, Oct 24, 2005, at 08:08 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
What follows is a copy of a lightly edited letter I sent earlier today to a respected, liberal Mormon academic.

Best regards,


Dr. *:

I have appreciated much of your work, and have not listened to your interview on *. I do, however, have a few things to add to what ** said to you.

Mormon leadership has from near the beginning has ridden two horses at a minimum in terms of authority. On the one hand, they claim absolute divine authority and obedience as ** noted. Countless statements from Mormon authorities can be mustered in support of this claim as well as the temple ceremony itself. And on the other hand, they claim the right to make mistakes and that such do not dilute their authority. In fact, the major defence Mormon leaders make of Joseph Smith and his error prone successors is that we cannot expect perfection from humans and that Smith was both God's prophet and human, so we should not hold him to an impossible standard. Fair enough. However, when you combine the claim for divine authority and obedience whenever you can't be proven wrong with an "out" that does not dilute your authority whenever you are proven wrong, you have something that resembles the "Texas sharpshooter's fallacy" in logic. That is, if you want to look like a great shot (or a prophet), you fire a bullet at the wall first, and then before anyone sees the hole you draw the target around it to show the hole in the middle of the bull's-eye. In similar fashion, Mormon leaders have invented and Mormon followers have accepted a system that can't be falsified. If you are right or can't be proven wrong, you are a prophet. If you are proven wrong, you made a non-prophetic error that does not affect your authority and hence the members' obligation to obey you. Followers are prevented by their belief system from using the usual connection between past error, prediction of future error, and decision as to whether to follow the advice/order of the error prone leader. Hell-of-a-deal for the leaders as long as they can can get it, and an interesting evolution of the inerrancy doctrine that was used by religious leaders in times when they were questioned less than religious leaders tend to be now.

And what about the Mormon leadership attitude with regard to questioning their authority? I love it when Mormon leaders trot out quotes from Brigham Young, Joseph Smith and others that show how Mormons are expected to think for themselves. And of course, they must also obey regardless of what they think. So why are we surprised that most Mormons don't think critically about their beliefs? What is the point if you can't act as a result of your thinking, not to mention the common Mormon advice in recent years that says, "Don't think, or read, or talk about anything that might cause you to question". And, obedience is what is covenanted in the temple. And members must not "speak evil of the Lord's anointed" which means in effect not questioning Mormon leaders in public or private so that legitimate concerns circulate and answers are demanded instead of quietly dying in a divided and conquered populace. This is a system similar to that which despots from time immemorial have created, and to which Mormons have simply agreed. This, in my view, is evidence of the kind of mythological evolution people like Joseph Campbell talk about. Mormonism has come up with a mythology related to its leadership authority that makes superficial sense in a scientific thinking world. We are small herd animals by evolution and instinctively cling to our dominant social group. Hence, it does not take more than superficial sense to keep us there most of the time.

That having been said, my concern with the Mormon leaders demand for unconditional obedience differs from **'s. It is the case, as he indicates, that Mormon leaders could make unethical demands and members would obey. It is also the case (and much more likely) that Mormons who are conditioned to obey the people they perceive to hold divine authority may at some point change their allegiance in that regard to a smaller, more radical group or start to become their own authority (like the Laffertys). The idea that God communicates his will to Mormons (or anyone) through feelings is a dangerous idea that can't be proven and is so easily susceptible to abusive manipulation that it should be rejected as a matter of priniple.

But my greatest concern with regard to the requirement of absolute obedience is that it causes Mormons to follow bad advice. What about gay Mormons who I understand to be even more depressed than the average Mormon and who commit suicide more often than the average gay person? What about Mormon women who are depressed in astounding numbers? What about Mormon women who are particularly inclined, or suited, to make professional endeavours their primary focus in life? What about Mormon intellectuals who are told in effect to stop thinking, talking and writing about what appeals to them in many cases? What about all those Mormon kids who get married so young, then start having kids, then get into Mormon leadership positions, then don't look up until they are in their 40s (like me)?

There are countless ways in which Mormon leaders provide advice to their followers that is profoundly to the advantage of the institution and profoundly against the interest of the average member.

And what does the emphasis on absolute obedience do to the moral fibre of the average Mormon? The temple covenants with regard to obedience are never met in my experience, and you are hearing from a guy who from the time he returned from his mission to being called as Bishop about ten years later did not miss a single home teaching appointment. I was ultra obedient, and in my view, no one fully lives up to the obedience requirement. Most Mormons fall so far below it that it is pathetic. They are put in the position of either carrying terrible guilt, or rationalizing the meaning of their covenant to obey and do all they are called upon to do within their reasonable power. Hence, most rationalize, and this slops over into all other aspects of their lives. Mormons, hence, in my experience are less honest on average in their dealings with their fellow man than most similarly situated individuals. Statistics drawn from Utah (with which I suspect you are more familiar than am I) support this in terms of tax evasion, software piracy, personal bankruptcies and other matters. This may also be a carryover from the time between the First and Second Manifestos during which Mormon leadership perfidy was so common and blatant, and some Mormon leaders wrung their hands over how this may have warped the moral timbre of their society.

And finally, what of the issue of reliability? Joseph Smith was not reliable. He deceived people constantly and when caught either used the "opps" out noted above, or in grievous cases used the "God told me to do it" out. In either event, he misled people while proclaiming his divine ability to see both the present and future with prophetic clarity. He lied about polygamy. He used the most disgusting, ridiculous seduction lines I have ever heard with many women, blatantly exercising his presumed divine authority to get their sexual favor. Those of his translations that have been checked have been proven to not be translations in the sense his hearers thought them to be. He used his prophetic mantle to attract investment capital to ill-conceived and sometimes illegal schemes. He regarded himself as in general above the law. He used secret quorums of various types to manipulate what was thought at the time to be relatively democratic church and a supposedly democratic city governance structure. The Book of Mormon has been shown to have an extremely high probability of not being what he said it was. And this is just the start of a list that I presume you know better than I do.

Whether Smith was a sincere believer in his own abilities, a pious fraud or just a fraud doesn't matter in a sense - what he said was not reliable. And his tendency to say whatever was required to get his people to continue to follow him and believe what he said was passed on to those who claim their authority from him. Hence, much of what they say is not reliable either. That was particularly the case during certain periods of time, but even now when we compare Mormon history as taught in missionary discussions, adult Sunday school classes and even for credit university courses at Institutes of Religion and elsewhere, the charge of deception is irresistible. Were Mormonism a security, many of Mormonism's highest leaders would be in jail for fraud.

When you combine leaders who consistently do not provide advice to followers that is based on the best available understanding of reality, with followers who are carefully conditioned to obey without questioning or discussing their concerns with anyone, you have a social disaster in the making. This disaster is no likely to manifest itself in a visible collapse, but rather in terms of blighted, impoverished lives. This was my experience, and the stats re anti-depressant consumption and a variety of other behaviors in Utah make me believe that this is a reasonable way to read the tea leaves in front of us.

I am glad there are people like you around who try to tease apart the threads of Mormon experience. However, in my view you do not go anywhere near far enough in your critique, and end up apologizing for an organization that would be best seen in history's dust bin. I don't expect it to find its way there because of Mormonism's proven ability to do what it must to survive. However, just as I now look back on the events that caused revelations to be received to do away with polygamy (after the fits and starts with which you are well acquainted), I wish that those with voices like yours would put as much pressure as possible on the Mormon hierarchy. They will change when forced to do so by declining membership rolls and revenues. I do not believe they will do so until a loss of personal and institutional power seems the lesser of evils from where they sit. The organization has been down that road at least three times before.

Best regards,


ps My further thoughts regarding Mormonism can be found at
topic image
A Few Thoughts About Mormon Marriage
Tuesday, Oct 25, 2005, at 11:35 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
A Few Thoughts About Mormon Marriage
bob mccue
October 22, 2005

Table of Contents
Introduction 2
Two’s Company; Three’s A Crowd 2
Fear and Desire 3
The Man’s On Top 4
Where’s The Love? 5
Mormonism Takes Undue Credit 5
Temple Building As An Investment Strategy 6
Divorce 6
Marriage In Traditional Societies v. Modern Societies 7
How Does Mormon Marriage Stack Up? 8
What Is Required To Understand The Mormon Experience? 10
Conclusion 10

Marriage (noun): That which turns love’s speedboat into a barge.


I recently attended a Mormon wedding reception. It was a typical Mormon reception in most ways. It was held in a cultural hall at a standard issue Mormon chapel and had a Spartan feel to it largely as a result of following the day’s highlight at the Cardston Temple. The people in attendance were friendly and seemed happy; a feeling of good will and hopefulness filled the place. Most there were outfitted like Mormons on Sunday – men in suits and white shirts; women in their Sunday dresses. I enjoyed seeing a number of friends whom I seldom see these days. I respect and enjoy these people, despite the elephant in the corner.

The reception’s unusual feature was a ring ceremony, included I suspect, because one of the newlyweds had many non-LDS family members in attendance. I have known the bishop who officiated at the ring ceremony for many years. He is a well-educated, good-intentioned man. Both his description of Mormon marriage and words of advice to the young couple were Mormon classics, and caused me for the first time in a while to think about the basics of Mormon marriage. I go on at length in this regard in an essay at Here, I will come at this topic from a different angle and be much more succinct.

Two’s Company; Three’s A Crowd

My bishop friend, among other things, noted during the ring ceremony that Mormon marriage is like a triangle with the couple at the base and God at the apex. He used the analogy of a couple kneeling across the altar from each other in a Mormon temple with a beautiful chandelier above them. The chandelier, he said, represents God. Hence, the marriage is not a two party, two-dimensional, affair as are most “til death do you part” marriages. Rather, it is three party and three dimensional, and most importantly, eternal. This means that it is much stronger and better than marriages entered into without God’s authority and participation. I wondered how that remark made the non-Mormons in attendance feel, for whose benefit the ceremony was being conducted.

In any event, I agree with the good bishop as to one thing – Mormon marriages are tri-partite affairs. The Mormon institution, presumed to represent God, is the third party. To use the temple or a chandelier in the temple as a symbol for this third party is appropriate, in my view. Both husband and wife are required to covenant absolute obedience to God and his presumed representatives on Earth – Mormon leaders. These promises are made in the Mormon “endowment” ceremony that is incorporated by reference into the temple marriage ceremony. The endowment ceremony is considered by Mormons to be “a gift of knowledge and power”. It is what marks spiritual maturity for a Mormon, and while it does not teach much that is not in Mormon Sunday school lessons, it does require the initiate to make a variety of far reaching promises such as those just noted. No notice of this is given and the initiate is usually put on the spot with a group of expectant friends or relatives who have already made the same promises looking on. It would take uncommon psychological strength to do anything but go along. And the psychological research indicates that making of this kind of promise will make obedience much more likely than would otherwise be the case.

The words used to extract the promise of obedience are as follows:

“… we should covenant to sacrifice all that we possess, even our own lives if necessary, in sustaining and defending the Kingdom of God …”


“… you do consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.”

The “Kingdom of God” and “Zion” are both references to the Mormon Church. Mormons who go through the endowment ceremony are required to indicate that they “solemnly covenant” to accept these commitments by raising their hands, bowing their heads and saying “yes”. Mormons who have been through the temple are reminded of these covenants in many ways.

In particular, Mormons are reminded that disobedience to temple covenants disqualifies them for what the temple promises – life after death in the “Celestial Kingdom” more wonderful than they can imagine. They will be forever in God’s presence with the faithful Mormon members of their families, endlessly procreating in the physical, sexual sense of that word while creating, organizing, populating and governing “worlds without end” as “kings and queens; priests and priestesses”.

I note as an aside the way in which Mormons are encouraged by their beliefs to bargain the present for what the far distant, likely non-existent, Celestial Kingdom offers. For example, it should be expected that married Mormon sex life would be less than stellar given the body shame Mormon’s are taught; endless pregnancies in many cases; the time and financial demands of large families; heavy Mormon community responsibilities; etc. But don’t worry about that; endure to the end and there will be sex forever in the Celestial Kingdom.

“Queens”; “Priestesses”? What is that about? Well, in the Celestial Kingdom women in some hard to understand way will finally get the real authority they are not permitted to have on Earth. So don’t worry about not having authority now. And time will no longer exist in the Celestial Kingdom, so don’t worry about being run off your feet now. And if you are not taking care of yourself as you should, or are depressed, or are physically ill, the Celestial Kingdom will take care of that too. It will be a world of physical and spiritual perfection, all you have to do is … endure to the end … of this life.

Fear and Desire

Fear and desire are two sides of the same coin. The Celestial Kingdom concept harnesses both of them to motivate a great deal of Mormon behavior. If Mormons stray too far from the path of obedience to Mormon authority, they will be shut out of the Celestial Kingdom. The stronger the belief in the Celestial Kingdom, the more fear will result from the possibility that one might not have been obedient enough to god's commandments (as communicated and interpreted by Mormon leaders) to make it there. Hence, a great deal of Mormon effort throughout life is dedicated toward qualifying for the Celestial Kingdom by obeying Church authority.

This means that in a marriage between faithful Mormons, if one falters in obedience the other may with justification point to their marriage covenant of faithfulness to Mormon authority and cry foul. That is the one of the most important parts of the brief Mormon temple marriage ceremony. Hence, the institution of marriage itself becomes a primary Mormon defence against the questioning of Mormon belief.

No wonder young Mormons are encouraged in many ways to marry as soon as possible and to immediately start their families. Making sex illicit until marriage is enough to do the job in most cases. Explicitly stigmatizing men in particular who make it to age 25 without marring is also helpful, not to mention how women who are not married well before then are made to feel. And the deeper the family roots go down through the mutual dependence of spouses on each other as children arrive, debt is incurred to purchase cars and houses, etc. the better the marriage acts as a defence against any information that might cause the questioning of Mormon beliefs.

The Man’s On Top

A number of the bishop’s and MC’s jokes at the wedding reception made the implicit Mormon relationship between man and woman clear – the man is a rough gem who acts like he is in control while the woman puts up with him and over the long haul, with much trial and tribulation, gets the job done. This reminded me of the relevant portions of the Mormon marriage ceremony. After a few brief words of advice respecting married life, the man performing the marriage would say to the groom:

“Brother ______, do you take Sister ______ by the right hand and receive her unto yourself to be your lawful and wedded wife for time and all eternity, with a covenant and promise that you will observe and keep all the laws, rites, and ordinances pertaining to this Holy Order of Matrimony in the New and Everlasting Covenant, and this you do in the presence of God, angels, and these witnesses of your own free will and choice?”

The groom then says, "yes". The officiator then turns to the bride and says:

“Sister ______ do you take brother ______ by the right hand and give yourself to him to be his lawful and wedded wife, and for him to be your lawful and wedded husband, for time and all eternity, with a covenant and promise that you will observe and keep all the laws, rites and ordinances pertaining to this Holy Order of Matrimony in the New and Everlasting Covenant, and this you do in the presence of God, angels, and these witnesses of your own free will and choice?”

The "Holy Order or Matrimony" and the "New and Everlasting Covenant" are references to the endowment, where the heavy lifting with respect to Mormon marriage is done as already noted.

That is the entirety of the official part of the ceremony, and there is very little window dressing permitted around it.

The only substantive difference between the two paragraphs above is that the groom "receives" the bride, and the bride "gives herself" to the groom. The groom does not "give himself" to the bride. This reflects Mormonism’s patriarchal orientation. The man is in charge. The woman has "given" herself to the man. This language also harkens back to the day when the female of the species was a type of property, to be transferred by her father to her husband whom she would then serve for the remainder of her life. It is also consistent with the manner in which men and woman promise obedience during the endowment. The men are required to obey god. The women, in the current ceremony, are required to promise to obey god and:

“… to hearken to the counsel of her husband, as her husband hearkens unto the counsel of [god] …”

Until the last round of changes to the ceremony were made a few years ago, this passage used to say that the women would,

“… obey the law of their husbands and abide by his counsel in righteousness …”

Again, the patriarchal orientation of the ceremony is visible, as are the changes that are slowly being made to bring it into line with early 20th century (if not 21st) sensibilities.

Where’s The Love?

Note that during the Mormon marriage ceremony itself says nothing about the love the couple has for each other; nothing about their commitment to each other; and nothing about their hopes, dreams, the challenges they may face, etc. The ceremony's emphasis is twofold: first on the eternal nature of the covenant made, and second, through the reference to the New and Everlasting Covenant, on obedience to the Mormon Church.

Compare this to a typical Anglican ceremony, which most Mormons I know consider to be a terminally unimaginative religion to the extent they think about it all. The Anglican ceremony notes that marriage,

“… was ordained for the mutual companionship, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”

The core of the Anglican covenant is to love your spouse. It includes the following language:

…will you have___ as your wife/husband, to live together, as God has ordained, in the holy state of matrimony? Will you love her/him, cherish her/him, honour and protect her/him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her/him, as long as you both shall live?

And the Anglican ceremony is crowned with this marvellous phrase:

With this ring I wed you, with my body I worship you; with all that I am and all that I have I honour you: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This, in my view, is uplifting, inspiring, encouraging – all that the guiding principle of marriage should be. I cannot think of a better concept to use at the apex of the marriage ceremony, while not preferring its theistic language.

Mormonism Takes Undue Credit

Back to the reception. The bride and groom were both radiant and effusive in their assessment of their experience at the temple and the wonderful day they had just enjoyed. The Cardston Temple is located in the foothills of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, and offers spectacular views from the highest hill in a down on its luck small town. The marriage occurred on an Indian summer day in October. My wife and I were married on a near identical day at the same time of year just over 25 years ago, and probably looked and sounded at that time a lot like the young couple whose life together we were celebrating at the reception. I have known the groom since he was a baby, and teared up a little at some of my memories of him and his family as the evening progressed, as well as while writing this.

“Isn’t that nice”, I thought to myself after listening to the bride and groom gush over how wonderful the temple was. “Once again, the third party to the relationship has taken most of the credit for what is a wondrous and universal human experience – the intertwining of two lives through marriage. Most couples are euphoric on their wedding day. Their families usually are too. So here we have a bunch of people who have been helped along toward being conditioned as surely as Pavlov’s dog to feel good about Mormonism.” I know the groom’s unorthodox Mormon history, and this is the kind of experience that will likely keep him headed in the “right” direction from a Mormon perspective for a while at least, and perhaps one thing (including marriage to a faithful Mormon) will lead to another and he will become a lifer.

Temple Building As An Investment Strategy

“What is the present value of the tithing these young people can be reasonably expected to pay?” I wondered. “Hell of a deal”, I thought as I roughed out the number in my head and worked out more or less how many temple marriages that are done in a typical Mormon temple each year. “No wonder they keep building temples even though not many people use them for proxy work-for-the-dead.”

And then the penny dropped. “What about the present value of all the tithing paid by family members, and particularly parents and grandparents, who want to attend the temple to be with their kids and grandkids when they are married?” The huge number I had calculated on the basis of the brides and grooms on their own rocketed into the stratosphere. “These temples are the best investment imaginable! And to think that N. Eldon Tanner, from my home town, was the financial genius likely responsible for all of this …”

Tanner was a respected businessman (he built the “TransCanada” pipeline system) and politician in my home Canadian province of Alberta before being called to full time Mormon leadership service, and is generally credited with taking Mormondom “corporate”. I had thought before about the connection between temple attendance requirements, temple construction and LDS revenues, but had never worked through the numbers in the clear fashion I just had. “And all of that got started on Tanner’s watch. Wow”, I thought. “This reception is turning out to be interesting in an unexpected way.”


On the way home my wife and I talked about our observations. We both enjoyed the company of old friends and agreed that we should make more of an effort to stay in touch with them. Conversation turned to what makes marriages happy, and why in my view so many Mormon marriages under-perform in that regard.

We started out talking about something I read a long time ago, and ran across again recently that has to do with why people divorce – an appropriate topic of conversation on the way home from a wedding reception. One stream of research reports that as people move from marriage number one, to two or three, that their expectations decline. A high percentage of people who divorce and remarry report that the problems in their first marriage followed them to their second or third, and that they eventually accustomed themselves to these. This would suggest that personal fulfillment through marriage is so elusive that we should not bother to chase it.

However, another fascinating set of studies show how predictable divorce is on the basis of a mere 30 minutes of video footage of a couple talking about routine matters. Each bite of their communication is determined to be either positive or negative using sophisticated criteria developed by Dr. John Gottman (see, on the basis of which Gottman has a prediction success rate of 95% as to which couples will be married for a certain period of time after the interview. Using the first 15 minutes of the interview, his batting average drops to 90%.

The key to Gottman’s formula is that positive to negative communication (as he defines both) must be better than 5:1 for a marriage to have a good long-term survival prospect. And most important of all is the degree to which what he calls “contempt” is displayed. This is a hierarchical behavior – verbal or non-verbal communication that shows that one spouse considers him or herself to be above the other. That is, it is not necessary that what we would usually think of as contempt be shown. Accordingly to Gottman, marriages can successfully deal with much more anger, deception and other obviously toxic behavior that a little polite indication of “who’s who”. If much of that is detectible, the marriage has a short life expectancy.

This line of research persuasively questions basic notions about what causes marital dysfunction and how hard it is to predict and in some cases correct either within a marriage or by choosing a new life partner. And in particular, it points out that the problems people will tell us are what break a marriage are often not it at all. We have problems, and hence solutions, of which we are largely unaware. Fascinating stuff.

After kicking this around with my wife for a few minutes, I wondered out loud whether Mormon marriages under-performed because Mormons are simply prepared to settle for less. That is, Mormon marriages with which I am familiar are often hierarchical in orientation, and so accordingly to Gottman should be more vulnerable to divorce. However, Mormon marriages end in divorce a little less frequently that the average. However, absence of divorce is a poor measure of marital quality. There are not many divorces among the Older Order Amish or traditional Hindus, but few of us aspire to that kind of marriage.

Marriage In Traditional Societies v. Modern Societies

There is a huge difference between marriage in traditional societies and modern democracies. The notion of “romantic” love is a recent invention to which many traditional societies still do not subscribe. Hence, in traditional societies such as the Hindu and Muslim many marriages are either entirely or largely arranged, and the expectation is that the couple will form a family that will be a social building block, and that they will make it work. Individual self-fulfilment or happiness as a primary objective of marriage is not an issue, and divorce is not an option. There is a high correlation between this kind of arrangement and bad societal deals for women in general, since the men often find a way to make things work from their point of view through having affairs, running the social and financial show while the women remain behind the scenes with few rights, etc.

In western democracies, women have more rights and the idea that marriage is about romantic love and self-fulfilment is generally accepted. This means that divorce is a necessary evil. The frequency of divorce is the natural consequence of the western realization that individual freedoms of many kinds, including those related for forming and dissolving marriages, can be granted without causing the kind of chaos that is still used to justify much of the social control that is exercised by traditional societies over their members.

Another way to understand the marital difference between traditional and modern societies is to think about expectations. It has been pointed out that much of our unhappiness results from differences between our expectations and reality. The further reality falls short of expectations, the more stressed and unhappy we tend to be. Hence, people with low expectations tend to be more satisfied with life than those with high expectations. This is one of the less than stellar outcomes of some aspects of Buddhist philosophy from my point of view. If you expect and want nothing, you will not be disappointed. But I digress.

Expectations fundamentally affect the factors used to choose marriage partners. In traditional societies were marriages are arranged, the focus is on what will build a strong society. Hence, family relationships and social stability of various types are of primary importance and if the happiness of the couple is considered, it is a minor factor. On the other hand, where personal happiness is the primary marriage objective that is where emphasis is placed. Countless books and magazine articles have been written to help the western public understand how this works. New breeds of the traditional matchmaker are now regularly paid large fees to help potential mates understand their psychology and the kind of person who will complement them. Sophisticated markets of various kinds now function where people who are looking for relationships can digest information about possible mates and make dating choices. People typically wait much longer to marry than in traditional societies, and the research indicates that theolder a couple are when they marry the more likely the marriage is to last and flourish. Recent research also indicates that the quality of life of a couple’s children tends to increase if the mother’s age when she has her first child is more than 30 years, thus indicating on average a better-educated, more prepared mother (see

In traditional societies less is expected of marriage from a personal point of view. Hence, husbands and wives are routinely satisfied with situations that would be intolerable for most people in the West. And in the West, for the most part, the expectations are higher, dissatisfaction is more common and so is divorce as individuals try to find a match that works for them. The idea of “starter marriages” is gaining currency – a marriage that like a small first home is used to get one’s toe in the water and find out what is important before moving on to something expected to be more permanent.

How Does Mormon Marriage Stack Up?

So, I wondered, perhaps we can think of marriage in some sense as being on a scale of one to ten in terms of personal expectations of happiness and self-fulfilment. Marriages within the most traditional societies still encourage very low personal expectations in this regard, and so will be put at one. And at ten we will put the most individualistic of the western tendencies to look for self-fulfilment through personal relationships of a marital type. And between them we can plot all other marriages. In that case, where would Mormon marriages fall?

After some discussion, my wife and I agreed that Mormon marriage is closer to one that ten. My best guess was around three. More importantly, this line of thought raises some interesting ideas about Mormon marriage in light of what I wrote above.

Mormonism is a type of traditional culture that places social controls above individual rights far more than the majority of the democratic western culture within which Mormonism exists. Hence, in many ways Mormons are torn between what they are taught by their dominant Mormon sub-culture and the messages they receive from the broader culture to which they are also exposed. The Hutterites, Amish, FLDS, some Hindus and Muslims and other traditional cultures that exist in the West deal with this by isolating themselves to a large measure. Mormonism did that for a long time in Utah, but eventually the Mormon mainstream decided to integrate with the secular forces that moved into the area by being “in” but not “of the world”. Mormon isolation is now accomplished to a degree by Mormon leaders telling Mormons to avoid information that threatens their belief, and to allow emotional experiences to override information collected through rational means. That is, “I felt really good at the Temple, therefore Mormonism must be true despite what I know about Joseph Smith’s deceptive tendencies …”.

This is tricky business, and usually ends up meaning that Mormons adopt social trends a few decades or generations after the broader culture does. The various brands of fundamentalist Mormons, on the other hand, have retreated from modernity and with justification accuse their mainstream cousins of having been “corrupted” by secular forces.

By attempting to both function as an integrated part of modern society and retain tradition values, Mormonism places a heavy psychological burden on its faithful. For example, young Mormons like my friends whose reception we attended carry both the Mormon expectation that marriages will be made to work no matter what – marriage is “eternal” – and the western secular notion of romantic, self-fulfilling love. Hence, they have high expectations with regard to the personal satisfaction they will receive from marriage. But have they gone about choosing their marriage partners so as to make those expectations realistic?

Most young Mormons who marry are attracted to each other. But how hard is that bar to clear? The mere fact that they cannot satisfy themselves sexually prior to marriage without experiencing a great deal of guilt makes it likely that their hormones will be screaming for them to find an acceptable mate.

A big problem in my experience is that young Mormon couples who take their religion seriously place a lot of emphasis on how likely it is that a potential mate will help them get to the Celestial Kingdom. Questions like, “What kind of a mother/father is she/he likely to be?”; “How faithful to the Church is she/he likely to be?”; “Does she/he have the spirit with her/him?”; “Does She/he study the scriptures and pray each day?”; tend to play a dominant important role in the decision-making process after the initial, and easy to satisfy, “Does he/she turn me on?” test is passed.

The factors I just noted are much more relevant to the marriage making concept in a traditional society than in the contemporary western world because they focus on the ability of the relationship to accomplish societal goals within a particular context (the Mormon social group) instead of how well the couple get along; the extent to which their interests overlap; how they will spend years enjoying themselves alone together before starting a family; and after the children leave; how they will provide for themselves; etc. The faithful Mormon is taught that if she has sufficient faith to be obedient to Mormon authority God will take care of the rest, so don’t worry about it too much. Many young Mormons rely on this fantasy to their detriment.

And how do young married Mormons tend to behave? First, they tend to be very young, and so the research indicates that the deck is staked against them because they have not finished developing (the brain does not finish the basics until the mid-20s in most cases), don’t know themselves well yet and are not established in the way that tends to make for successful marriages. If they are like most young Mormon couples, they will start their family quickly and so be on the wrong side of the research that indicates that the children of mothers who begin their maternal career after age 30 do better than others. They are burdened with the patriarchal notions noted above, and the wife in particular is likely to have a hard time ignoring the voices around her that empower women. This in many Mormon marriages encourages the kind of hierarchical communication that Gottman says breeds divorce.

In short, there are lots of reasons for which to expect that Mormon marriages in Western society will be under a lot of pressure. Add to this the personal bankruptcy and anti-depressant use rates in Utah (70% Mormon and hence a reasonable proxy for it), and a troubling picture emerges. And as noted above, the Mormon divorce rate is about what it is in the rest of society.

This all leads me to believe that Mormon marriages, on average, tend to survive more because of lower expectations and determination to “make it work” somehow than because they are well chosen and have been properly nurtured. In this regard, Mormon marriages are more like those of traditional societies than most of those in the democratic west.

I hasten to add that anyone who asks a married Mormon if he is happy in his marriage will probably hear that he is. This is a requirement of Mormon belief – that you be happy and that your marriage be happy. To admit that this was not the case would be itself evidence that things were likely not right in your life. And many Mormon, including most of the friends with whom we spent some pleasant time last night, give the appearance of having well-adjusted, compatible marriages. I do not suggest that they, in particular, have anything other than that.

What Is Required To Understand The Mormon Experience?

My main point is that contrary to popular Mormon belief, if you want to understand Mormonism or any aspect of it such as Mormon marriage, you’ve got to do much more than ask a Mormon or have lived a Mormon life. The Mormon point of view (as is the case with any culture specific viewpoint) is far too narrow to grasp the nature of the Mormon experience. What we need is access to the kind of data John Gottman collects – data that penetrates the facades we all put up and shows the stresses underlying ordinary communication. We need to understand a broad base of other cultures and behaviours as they really are instead of as Mormonism tells us they are. And finally, we then need to understand the base of values and expectation on which Mormon and other cultural behavior is built. Until we understand the background against which Mormonism is set, we cannot understand it. And if the point of the exercise is to decide how “Mormon” one wishes to continue to be, an understanding of other value systems and the outcomes they are likely to deliver is of course crucial.


Oh, I almost forgot the closing highlight the wedding reception. There was the typical computer generated slide show of the couple’s lives from babyhood through the cute kid, ugly duckling and blossoming swan stages. Throughout, the bride’s name appeared with her pictures in the upper left hand corner of the screen, and the groom’s name appeared in the lower right hand corner with his. At the conclusion of the slide show, in a nice musical crescendo, a picture of the Mormon temple appeared on the screen and the two names began to move toward each other and obvious union at mid-screen. “Nice touch”, I thought. Then, to my amazement, the names kept moving after coming together until the groom’s name was for the first during the presentation on top of the bride’s.

Freud would have a field day with that one.
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Questions From The Mormon Fringe - How Mormon Leaders Receive Revelation And Agnosticism
Friday, Nov 4, 2005, at 08:11 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Questions from the Mormon Fringe – How Mormon Leaders Receive Revelation and Agnosticism

The following is a lightly edited copy of part of an exchange I am having with a sincerely questioning Mormon. Since the questions are basic, I thought others here might find this useful. I would be interested to hear how others would answer this kind of question.

Best regards,


Bob, am I to believe that you are now an agnostic? Also, is it true that you were a Bishop for 5 years? If so, I have a question for you. Did you honestly feel any distinct guidance when people were in front of you facing a Bishop's Court? To discern between excommunication, disfellowship, or simply counseling?

Hello again XX.

I am agnostic as to most things related to religion, except what we can test using science. I will cut and paste below a summary I recently sent to some scientific friends with much more experience in this area than I have in which I asked for their advice as to the approach I am developing. I have since heard back from them that they see things more or less as I do.

While I was Bishop I did not preside over any bishop's courts. I had several cases where I could have convened them, but choose not to. My policy was live and let live unless I felt forced to act. So I have to answer your question on the basis of things like not convening those courts, extending significant callings, etc.

I followed the procedure outlined in DandC 9, which speaks of concentrating and reasoning with feelings of warmth to follow if the decision is right and feelings of darkness if not. This, from my point of view, is the same process I use at work. I keep thinking, collecting data, etc. until the decision feels right. The only difference is that as Bishop I used formal prayer more during the process. At work, however, I used prayer a lot in making the important decisions I made. So, in my case at least, there was little difference in the major decisions I made at work and at church as a Mormon leader. In each case, common sense (in the end) was the primary determinant. And common sense is little more than the cumulative total of our conditioning coming to bear on the decision before us.

While I was a Mormon leader I believed that God was inspiring my decisions in that regard just as he did my personal decisions. Since God's voice in my important personal decisions had been so faint all I had to work with were vague impressions, I was not surprised to find the same was the case with my church responsibilities. I spoke with my SP and other bishops about this, and was told that their experience was the same as mine. And statements that Hinckley has made recently to the press indicate that the highest counsels of Mormondom are run on the same basis.

The emotional high points of being the Bishop came from the same font as the high points during the rest of my life's experience as well. That is, when I counselled with people who were under stress because of marital problems, perceived sin, etc. and helped them to find relief, this was gratifying for them and hence also for me. To have people come to me week after week with their most important problems and thank me profusely for helping them, was of course both an ego boost and produced of satisfying emotional experience. The same was true as I participated in intimate family moments like weddings, funerals, baptisms, missionary farewells and welcome homes, etc. The emotional charge I received as a result of this felt like God's approval of my work; at those moments while feeling mildly euphoric I thought I was feelings his presence and hearing his voice. However, I now see that the same dynamics are involved in any human group whether it be politics, the law firm at which I work, a social club, internet discussion group, etc.. When we share other's lives at an intimate level, it is deeply satisfying.

Mormonism brilliantly takes control of many of life's high points, thus giving the impression that the powerful and usually positive feelings we tend to have in conjunction with those experiences are related to (or even due to) God, and Mormonism. In addition to the kind of thing I have noted above, this extends to fathers' blessings, blessings of health, rites of passage such as being ordained to the priesthood or passing through the Young Women's program, and even the conditioned tendency to pray during both times of deepest sorrow and joy. That is, each time life dips us in its renewing chaotic brew that both accompanies and produces change, Mormonism teaches us to genuflect to its version of God, thus associating the most powerful emotional forces we know directly with God and his presumed Mormon agents. Many other religions have used the same process. It is arguably the single most effective social conditioning and control agent mankind has ever invented.

Part of the downside of acting as bishop was that it deepened my confusion about the kind of feelings that may be due to a God of some kind, and what is just the result of how humans are built and interact with each other in groups. This lengthened the time it took for me to "think my way out" of Mormonism. In addition, while acting as bishop I was drained of time as well as physical and emotional energy that was badly needed in my home by my wife whose health was failing as she cared for our young and growing family pretty much by herself.

Now that I have a broader understanding of religious history and social psychology, I see all around me people who interpret life's powerful emotional events as God's voice, or presence, or will, etc. This is one of the oldest stories known to man.

And so I believe that agnosticism with regard to most of this is the way to go. However, I think it is safe to conclude that most people who think they hear God telling them anything in particular are mistaken. And even people like Gordon Hinckley, when put on the spot, admit that they are not hearing anything particular from God. Their decision making process, as far as I can tell, is just like that I have outlined above. They are acting on the assumption that the amazing revelations Joseph Smith claims to have received are what he said they are, and are merely attempting to be consistent with that while maintaining the authority over their followers. And the biggest issue in that regard, of course, is Smith's credibility. The closer his life is examined, the less credible he is.

Best regards,


Michael and Phil:

Let me again edge into your conversation, more to ask for enlightenment than to contribute. But to become enlightened, one must first disclose his ignorance, so I will start with that.

I am still trying to get the basic concepts straight in my head, and am encouraged to see my friend Michael beavering away at a similar task.

My system, which is still a work in progress, for approaching issues like the one Michael raised [how much can science teach us about the big meaning questions; how do we draw the line between physics v. metaphysics] is as follows:

- I start with epistemology - the study of how we justify our beliefs.

- I move from there to ontology - the study of the broadest range of categories of existence; The study of the nature of being, reality, and substance.

- Then I get to physics (or science). The epistemic principles with which I am comfortable direct me to physics as the most reliable means to begin to work out my ontology. A definition of physics I like for this purpose is: Physics (from the Greek, ??????? (phusikos), "natural", and ????? (phusis), "nature") is the science of Nature in the broadest sense. Physicists study the behaviour and properties of matter in a wide variety of contexts, ranging from the sub-nuclear particles from which all ordinary matter is made (particle physics) to the behaviour of the material Universe as a whole (cosmology). Hence, physics underlies all other sciences. Physics is what we use to determine whether particular entities exist, what their nature is, and hence how they interact with other entities.

- So, were does metaphysics fit in? Metaphysics ("beyond" physics) is what frames physics. That is, when you define physics, you define metaphysics by exclusion. Thus, it is a vast area that includes epistemology, ontology, mythology, cosmology, semiotics, etc. I am accustomed to using the term metaphysics to refer to "speculative thought about matters outside the perceivable physical world", which is another common definition. To avoid confusion, I do not use the term metaphysics much. When I mean that something is not scientific, I say that since people are more likely to understand me. When scientific language is used to describe something that might be metaphysical, I prefer to speak in terms of how that can be justified within a particular epistemic framework. I find that most misunderstandings can be cleared up most quickly by first nailing down differences in view regarding epistemology.

- In an interesting way, physics (or, better put, the entire scientific enterprise) have strongly influenced both epistemology and ontology as they are now widely accepted. In this sense, I agree with Michael that science affects metaphysics, but as noted below, think that to say science "generates" metaphysics is not quite right. Rather, as the scope of science changes, it changes the boundary of metaphysics by definition. This includes relegating to the garbage heap ideas that were once widely considered to be metaphysically valid and that have been falsified by science. This also tends to make metaphysics on the fringes of science look more interesting for some purposes, like defining one's ontology.

The epistemic and ontological theorists whom I find most helpful are those who use science's reliability as their acid test. So, I end up finally on the road toward constructing my worldview or ontology with an epistemic system that is strongly influenced by science, and hence an epistemic hierarchy that uses Bayesian probability theory as does science to assess evidence and justify both ontological belief and action. This means that as I deal with different aspects of the scientific enterprise, I try (as do most scientists with whom I have debated issues of this kind) to distinguish between that which is more measurable and hence reliable, and that which is less. Physics (as the narrowly defined branch of science) offers both poles - certain principles that are nailed down with a great degree of precision like Newton's laws, to some aspects of theoretical physics that are not supported by a shred of empirical data while being taken very seriously. String theory would be an example of this. However, in general physicists have looked down their noses at biologists, for example, because of how much less predictable (and hence scientific in a sense) biology is than physics. And the social sciences in general deal with phenomena that are much more difficult to measure and hence reliable than most of what biology works with, resulting in more peering down noses as the hard scientists in general regard the social scientists and their work.

The important point for me is that as we move from phenomena that are more accurately measured and understood to those that are less, our ability to use science within the epistemic system to justify belief diminishes. So, at what point does the knowledge provided by science become less able to justify belief and behaviour than other forms of knowledge?

- Mythology in its commonly understood sense is the study of myths. However, the most important mythology for me is human history as I believe it to be. This is the human story, starting for many people before recorded history or even before life on this planet, that tells us at the most fundamental level who and what we are by giving us a part in a vast epic. As such, this kind of mythology is part of ontology - it tells us basic things about who we are; why history is patterned as we perceive it to be; what the cosmos is; what or who controls the cosmos; etc.

We all start somewhere in a human group with a mythology that is called history, science, story, etc. and is believed to describe past and present reality. Hence, the primary form of knowledge that competes epistemically with science in our current society is personal mythologies that are derived in some way from group mythology.

People like Einstein and Feynman suggest that to the extent our inherited ontological and epistemic beliefs are not falsified to some reasonable degree of probability by science, we do not have a good reason to abandon them. This recognizes the utility of cohesive human groups to both individuals and society. Of course, there is lots of debate around when inherited beliefs have been sufficiently falsified to be abandoned. A strong apologetic tradition going back as far as I can trace it says that certain inherited beliefs (such as religious beliefs) are so important that virtual certainty of falsehood is required to justify change. Remembering that these are non-scientific beliefs that are not falisifiable by definition helps us to see this standard for what is - a social defence mechanism designed to prevent change in belief and hence the group. When we see something like this, we should ask "who benefits" and then determine who is promoting this view. They are generally the same people.

- I have trouble teasing meaning apart from its related ontology. Semiotics is the study of how meaning is constructed, and what I mostly see there is epistemology and ontology. Meaning is based on perceived reality. So, how do we decide what is "real"? That is, what is the real nature of a human being? Are we designed by God in some way, or not? Does God exist, or not? And if so, what is His/Her/Its nature? These are ontological questions, answered on the basis of epistemic principles and meaning flows from that without more.

Again, I think it is helpful to recognize that we don't start in a vacuum without meaning and then construct it. It is a given; a basic premise that is an intrinsic part of our inherited ontology. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If there was even an example of co-evolution, it must surely be mythic meaning and ontological belief within a given culture. The question is, will we change what we inherited? Such changes are usually driven by nascent ontological belief that is inconsistent with mythic meaning, not the other way around.

- Given what I have just said, I don't agree that science "generates" metaphysics. That, in my view, is a contradiction in terms. What you are saying, I think, is that our non-scientific ontological views are affected by science. I agree with that. Sometimes it is a matter of science having falsified so many claims of a particular type (faith healings, for example), that other similar claims are not accepted without a high standard of proof being met. Or science has provided explanations that are far more parsimonious than what religion offers for some phenomena, such as that many types of visions can be medically explained; epileptic seizures do not necessarily mean demonic possession; etc.

A lot of what science uses to question ontological beliefs is on the fringe of measurable phenomena and hence the fringe of science - social science. This should make us sceptical of its probative value, and to think carefully about Einstein's and Feynman's advice before we stand on that pedestal to insist that others, within social groups the dynamics of which we do not understand, change their beliefs and so incur personal costs that may not be justifiable in their circumstances. Those same believers, when assessing the likely costs assoicated with a change in belief, would do well to remember that our cling-to-the-group instinct was developed in our evolutionary past when clinging to the group was necessary for survival. Therefore, in our current context we tend to dramatically overestimate such costs.

And sometimes we find ourselves way outside science and yet hear even respected scientists (as Michael Ruse has pointed out in "Mystery of Mysteries - Is Evolution a Social Construct?") positing non-scientific ontologies in their popular works and having many members of the much less scientific public swallow them whole because they are dressed in scientific garb and presented by respected scientists. This justifiably angers other scientists.

- To conclude, lets run one of the topics from Star Island this summer through my little system.

I can use scientific analytical tools to assess the accuracy of a statement like "Buddhist monks report losing their sense of self while meditating; their measurable brain states at the same time are consistent with that reporting; and these brain states are consistent with other well known brain states that accompany lovemaking and other phenomena known to cause a powerfully attractive emotional and hence physical state." Those statements are falsifiable on the basis of data collected, measured, etc. and are hence within science's reach.

However, I can't use science to assess the statements, "Therefore, there is a state of "absolute unitary being" that is more real than the base-line waking reality we generally experience. And therefore, I believe that God [pick your favourite flavour] does exist and what the Monks experienced was a taste of the dimension in which he lives and where we will go after death and ... [go on from there to deal with questions of life's purpose and meaning as you wish]" I realize that this is not what Newberg said in his book ("Why God Won't Go Away") or at Star. I am repeating what I have heard others state as their personal beliefs on the basis of his research.

The second and third statements posit an ontology that cannot be tested scientifically, but is argued to be consistent with Newberg's findings and hence justifiable from an epistemic point of view that has science's approval even though it is not scientific.

As I start to assess this statement, I will first want to talk about epistemology in general. What will be our standard for accepting that something is real? Is it enough, in general, to show that something is not falsified by science? Were that the case, any number of bizarre beliefs would be justifiable including those of Muslim suicide bombers who feel enormous peace and in some cases orgiastic epiphanies as they prepare for their missions of the kind the great mystics write about.

I would then pull out some social science, acknowledge that any conclusions drawn from it are far from bullet proof, and look for patterns in what people from different cultures believe in basic ontological terms. I may be able to show that any experience that makes a person feel a bit like he or she just had a sexual climax will likely be perceived to be highly attractive, and anything perceived to cause the experience will likely be considered both valuable and powerful. I can likely use Newberg's research to show a link between some mystic and religious experience and powerfully attractive, motivating emotional states. I may be able to show correlations between various kinds of environmental conditions and ontological beliefs (environments of scarcity produce demanding, punishing gods and hard to reach heavens; etc.). I may be able to show correlations between ontological beliefs in general and other aspects of human psychology or neurology. I may be able to show correlations between theories as to how orwhy the ontological beliefs in human groups develop and other psychological theories such as evolutionary psychology. I may be able to show correlations between both group and individual attributes and their ontological beliefs, and suggest that by choosing an ontology we to some extent choose our group and individual natures. Etc.

In the end, I don't think I will have trouble justifying within my epistemic system the following:

- I am not justified in a belief merely because it has not been falsified by science.

- Strongly held ontological beliefs that are not justified by science are correlated with many factors that seem inconsistent with a concurrent correlation to reality. That is, things like belief in particular kinds of gods or human purposes are much more reflective of social reality and other objective circumstances of the individual and her group than anything else.

- This pattern suggests that any particular non-scientific ontological belief is unlikely to accurately describe reality, and human nature appears to be such that this suggestion will be almost universally resisted by people who hold particular ontological beliefs, no matter how bizarre they may seem to non-believers.

That is it for today. I would welcome any education you, Phil or others may wish to offer.


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"The Gospel Is Perfect But The People Are Not" - A Critique: Part II - The Gospel Is Perfect?
Monday, Nov 7, 2005, at 08:49 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
“The Gospel is perfect but the people are not” – A Critique: Part II - The Gospel is Perfect?

Part II – The Gospel is Perfect?

I did a google search as well as a search of the data base of two phrases: “The Church is Perfect” and “The Gospel is Perfect”. I noticed an interesting pattern. By and large, faithful Mormons do not say “the Church is perfect”, and the data base does not include a single incidence of that phrase. The faithful almost universally say something like "the Gospel is perfect but the people are not", and the site does contain that phrase.

There is an important difference between the “Church” and the “gospel”. The Church is the collection of imperfect people who try to follow the dictates of the Gospel, which is taken to be the perfect word of God. Mormon leaders are quick to admit that they, and all of their predecessors are imperfect, and that their imperfections are not evidence that the Mormon Church is not God’s church. Mormons say that God must work through the agency of imperfect humans to accomplish his purposes, one of which is the “perfecting of the Saints”. I recall being moved a number of years ago at General Conference by a women who spoke in that inimitable Intermountain West accent while modelling a squished beehive-type hairdo. She was, I think, I member of Primary General Presidency. She went on about how grateful she was that members of her ward and stake were imperfect! Spectacularly imperfect! This, she gushed, gave her the chance to develop her patience and love in the best possible environment for that kind of thing! The Church was perfecting her because of the imperfections of its members! Isn’t that amazing! I wonder where else on Earth one might find imperfect human beings to test ones’ patience? This must mean Mormonism is “true”!

In any event, the Mormon Church is clearly not perfect. And this goes far beyond its being comprised of imperfect individuals. The Church is structurally imperfect in ways that incline it toward certain kinds of predictable abuses. And these structural flaws are traceable to its foundational instructions as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, a set of “revelations” Smith purported to received from God, and in which he was instructed as to how the Mormon Church was to be set up and operated.

For example, the Mormon Church is non-democratic. History teaches us that when humans have power over other humans that is not carefully circumscribed and subjected to checks and balances that the train will run off the rails. It is not a question of “if, but rather of “when” and “how bad will the damage be”. This is why the invention of democracy and the emergence of the modern democratic state is considered to be of such monumental importance in human history. Mormon leaders are constrained in many ways by the rights of citizens within the democratic states in which Mormonism operates, but within their sphere of permitted operation they behave as should be expected of non-democratic leaders. They maximize their influence, and distribute as little information as possible to the membership by way of which they might be held to account for their actions, while extracting the maximum amount of resources of various kinds from their membership.

Among other things, the non-democratic nature of Mormonism explains the astronomical percentage of blood and marital interrelationships within the ranks of high Mormon leadership. The perquisites of Mormon leadership do not generally include a lot of money. But if you don’t think that the right to order people around and have them worship you is something people will do almost anything for, read a little history.

I laughed out loud a short time ago when Gordon Hinckley, the current Mormon prophet, feigned astonishment that one of his sons had been nominated for high office within Mormonism. “I had nothing to do with it”, Hinckley assured his listeners. His son was called by God to Mormon officialdom, and Hinckley himself was not involved in the process. And I believe him, at least to the extent that he was not directly involved. That is the beauty of the Mormon leadership system – Hinckley would not have to do anything. The rest of the leaders know what to do to keep the game going.

At the congregational level, Mormon leaders are generally chosen from among the more financially successful and respected of the male members. Some of them (Bishops particularly) are then required to dispense advice regarding important, intimate personal problems. These include marital disputes, career advice, teenage difficulties, who one should marry, whether one should go on a mission or to university, etc. The advice most often handed out by these generally well-meaning men is that one should obey the Lord’s commandments (that is, stop sinning as defined by Mormonism), spend more time praying and studying the scriptures, and immerse oneself in Mormon service. That is one size fits all advice provided by men who have in general no training in counselling, and are not considered to need any. They rely upon "god's inspiration" to guide them in the advice they give.

If a Mormon bishop is confronted by someone who is obviously mentally ill, most of the time he will tell them to see a doctor. And Mormonism has set up its own psychological counselling system so that Mormons in many places do not have to see a non-Mormon for help with life’s emotional challenges. This was likely done because non-Mormon psychologists, oddly enough, often regard Mormonism itself as a big part of the problem and recommend disengagement. As this pattern became clear, the Mormon Church invested heavily in training and then employed a cadre of counsellors who would offer different advice that encouraged Mormon to remain Mormon.

I heard a few days ago about a young friend who is going through a difficult adjustment after coming home from his mission. He is having trouble deciding what to do for a career and hence what to study; his lacks confidence in his own judgement for a variety of reasons; etc. His bishop’s advice – “pray more, study your scriptures more, immerse yourself in church service, and are you sinning?” The boy does not think he is sinning, but who knows. If he follows the Bishop's advice and does not feel better, what is likely to happen? He will become more depressed because not only does he feel poorly, but God is not responding to him and the most likely reason for that within the Mormon worldview is that he is sinning. And so a more strict adherence to Mormon behavioural norms would follow, and this cycle could continue for some time. That could be depressing on a new level. I suspect his difficultly lies in the kind of thing a good psychologist and some career counselling could straighten out without too much trouble.

A medical doctor friend told me recently of a call he received from a bishop of an LDS singles ward with whom he has been friends for years. The bishop was concerned with the degree of depression he was seeing and hearing about during the interviews he conducts with members of his ward. He wanted the docs advice as to whether the problems he was hearing about were clinical, and hence whether he should refer members of his ward to a doctor, or whether the “pray more and stop sinning” advice was enough. This bishop is more perceptive than most.

After listening to the bishop's summary of the problems his ward members had, my friend said that most of what he heard sounded clearly clinical to him, and he asked what percentage of the ward was in this state. The bishop replied that he thought it was in the 50% range. Lots of kids are depressed because they are not married, and perhaps have sexually sinned while trying to get married. Others are depressed because they don’t want to get married and are under a lot of pressure to do so. Others because they are terrified of going on missions, and under great pressure to go. Others because they are simultaneously trying to give heavy time to LDS service and get the kind of grades they need to have to follow the LDS path – successful professional etc. with large family and a high Mormon calling. Pretty picture. How do I get some of that?

So, we will agree that the Church is not perfect, and its members certainly are not. What, then, is the “gospel”, how does it relate to the “Church”, and is it reasonable to say that the “gospel is perfect”?

The “gospel” is generally defined as the good news of Christ’s redemption, usually interpreted as that version contained in the four canonical “gospels” in the New Testament. “Gospel” is also used as a synonym for “true”, as in “it is gospel!”. However, in the Mormon context the word “gospel” has a different meaning. In its introduction, the Book of Mormon proclaims itself to be the “fullness” of the Gospel. This no doubt follows various DandC passages that also say this (see for example, DandC 20:9, 135:3). And in the Mormon temple, prior to 1990 those who made the promises that are part of the Mormon “endowment” ceremony were required to agree that they would obey “the Law of the Gospel as contained in the Book of Mormon and the Bible”. In 1990, this was modified to say, “the law of the Gospel as contained in the Holy Scriptures”, which would bring the DandC (amendable at any time by Mormon leaders) and other statements by Mormon leaders that are regarded as canonical into the Mormon definition of “gospel”. Theseinclude all statements of Mormonism’s highest leaders made twice each year at Mormonism’s general conferences. This is consistent with other aspects of the Mormon temple ceremony in which Mormons promise absolute obedience to Mormon authority.

So, for Mormon purposes the gospel is Christ’s message as contained in the Bible (as far as it is translated correctly), as restored by Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon, and most importantly, as stated by Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders in any way that is regarded by Mormon leaders as being part of the Holy Scriptures.

But hold on. Didn’t we agree above that the Church itself is not perfect? And now we learn that the Church is defined by the DandC which is part of the perfect gospel? Isn’t that contradictory? If the gospel (the DandC) defines the Church, how can the Church be imperfect from a structural point of view?

I suspect that the Mormon answer to this question would be that only the parts of the DandC that do not relate to the “human” side of the Church are perfect. Another way to look understand this is that anything that relates to the pre-existence or life after death or the nature of god, etc. is the gospel and the rest is not. That is, anything that can’t be disproved is the gospel and hence perfect. Hmmmm. While I can understand why a Mormon might say this, it seems to quite clearly contradict many other things that Mormon leaders have said, as well as the Mormon temple ceremony. And, if the gospel is perfect, it does a pretty poor job of letting you know where its boundaries are. Is that not a contradiction in terms? How do you get poorly defined perfection?

In any event, one might note that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are notoriously difficult to interpret, as evidenced by the fact that there are numerous Christian and Mormon sects. If the gospel is perfect, why it is so confusing?

The Mormon answer would be that the Bible and Book of Mormon are only confusing to those who do not accept that the only people on earth who have the authority to speak for God are Mormonism’s leaders. And they say, as do other religious leaders, “Obey us and give us your money and other resources.” Hmmmmm. It is almost tempting to think that there is a scam going on here. Lots of nice sounding things that fall apart on analsysis. Nah, it couldn't be that. These Mormons are far too nice and well-intentioned to be scammers, aren't they?

What we are really confronted with in the realtinship between the Church and the gospel in Mormon doctrine is circular logic. That is, the definition of one thing relies upon another, which in turn relies upon the first. The gospel is perfect; the Church (including its leaders) are not perfect; and the gospel is defined by the Church’s leaders. So, the perfect gospel is defined by imperfect leaders? Hmmmm. Houston, we have a problem.

This is part of one of Mormonism (and other religions’) oldest tricks. Joseph Smith, for example, is God’s prophet and inspired by him, unless he is proven to be wrong. In that case, he is assumed to have made a human error that does not invalidate his prophetic power with regard to all that has not been proven wrong. And this is the case even when we learn that many of his errors were due to his having decided to mislead his followers because that would be in everyone's (and especially his) best interest.

In like fashion, any error that Mormon leaders are shown to have made in defining the gospel was never really part of the gospel. This must be so because the gospel IS perfect. Hence, by definition anything that is eventually found not to be perfect was not part of the gospel. The error, really, was ours. We thought that because the imperfect Mormon leaders told us what the gospel was and that it was perfect, that everything they said about the gospel was accurate. We have been told that the leaders are imperfect and should not have been confused.

“Well then,” a confused Mormon might ask, “how can I know what is true? If the members are imperfect, and the leaders are imperfect, and the Church itself is imperfect, I thought that I could at least rely upon the gospel. That was my unshakeable bedrock. And now you are telling me that I can’t even rely on that as it is set out or interpreted by Mormon leaders in the Holy Scriptures? You say that I should be ready at any time to be told that what I have been told is part of the perfect gospel was just another error? Now I am really confused.”

I can just the response of the Mormon leaders: “I bear you my solemn testimony, with tears streaming down my cheeks, that I know the gospel is true and perfect and that Joseph Smith restored it to us in spite of his imperfections. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. I have felt it in my very soul. I testify this to you in the name of Jesus Christ, and promise you in his name that if you will remain faithful to Mormonism, you will receive blessings beyond your ability to imagine them in the Celestial Kingdom!!” [pause for effect]

Well, that makes me feel much better about all of this.

All the best,

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Mormon Apologetics V. Mormon Criticism - Is There A Better Way?
Friday, Nov 11, 2005, at 09:07 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I just visited for the first time and found a few interesting items there. One caught my eye in particular - an analysis of the difference between Mormon apologetics and Mormon criticism. My lightly edited post to the thread is found below. I suggest that using a wider angle lens is better than taking either the Mormon Apologetic or Mormon critic approach.

Best regards,


Hello RT.

A friend just referred me here, and I have enjoyed reading a few of your pieces. I will briefly comment regarding this one.

Let me suggest that there is another axis along which you might approach Mormonism that in my view makes more sense than either apologetics or criticism. It uses the most basic of epistemic principles.

As you intimated, scientific epistemology dominates our culture. This is so because it produces knowledge based on repeatable experiment that is more reliable in some ways than any other kind of knowledge we have yet produced. And within science, of course, there are gradients of reliability. Most aspects of psychology, for example, do not produce knowledge that is as reliable as that produced by most aspects of chemistry, for example.

As we move toward the fringes of science in terms of the reliability of knowledge produced and into metaphysics, we find that what passes for knowledge is to a greater extent socially constructed. That is, people simply agree as to what certain phenomena mean, and in our society most of this can't be tested by science. In pre-scientific societies, even more knowledge was created on this basis.

In scientifically oriented societies, the greatest battles are pitched as knowledge produced by science collides with (and generally overcomes) socially constructed knowledge. Think of Galileo, Darwin (including the current ID debate), and in Mormon circles, the "is the Book of Mormon real history" debate and its most recent chapter involving DNA evidence. The approach of the Mormon apologists in that regard has clearly been to redefine the Book of Mormon's claims to make them unfalsifiable, and hence non-scientific, and hence more amendable to being maintained as social constructs.

There is one way to test socially constructed knowledge that cuts across almost all human cultures and is relevant to Mormonism. A basic and finely tuned set of human skills or heuristics is related to sensing how trustworthy other people are. Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" outlines some of the recent research in that regard. In a matter of seconds, most humans can form amazingly reliable impressions of how trustworthy other people they meet are likely to be. This ability is likely related to the importance to human group cohesion and success of the ability of group members to trust each other, and to weed out those that are not trustworthy. See also Gird Gigerenzer's research summarized at

On the other hand, there is massive literature on cognitive bias that outlines the circumstances in which humans are likely to misperceive in this regard. I describe some of this at and starting at page 26. Many of these distorting forces relate to what is called the "authority bias". This seems to derive from the need individual humans historically have had to be protected by a group. Until recently it has been more important to our survival to act so as to maintain group cohesion than to always be "right". Hence we are biased toward agreeing with the dominant authority in our group. The principle of insufficient justification and the saying-is-believing principle (as noted in the second document referenced above) are best thought of in some ways as sub-sets of the authority bias.

When our amazing ability to detect untrustworthy behaviour and our tendency to defer to authority are considered in context, I think the following is a reasonable hypothesis. The ability to detect untrustworthiness has been important to human survival, but not as important as being within a protective group. Hence, certain types of untrustworthiness within the group tend not to be detected including many of the foibles exhibited by group leaders. For this reason, the same leadership flaws and untrustworthiness that goes unnoticed within the group will be highly visible to people outside the group, and what is effective leadership within the group will often be perceived as pure evil by outsiders. Think of Hitler and countless other political leaders. And, when we consider the way in which con artists operate, we find that they invoke the authority bias in innumerable ways thus disconnecting our critical faculties. We find the same thing - usually in more subtle fashion - accountable for much of the success our best salesman have. See Robert Levine "The Power of Persuasion - How We Are Bought and Sold" for in interesting read in that regard.

In modern North American society religious groups are not required to protect their members. Yet the instincts that cause deference to group norms in terms of accepting socially constructed knowledge and overlooking leadership error work in favor of such groups. This is due to the fact that human biology changes much more slowly than human society.

So, when one steps outside of the Mormon group and looks back with an outsider's eyes, what does one see? First, one sees a group of people who inexplicably (until the above factors are considered) accept as their foundational premises the word of a man who is a proven deceiver (whether delusional or dishonest being irrelevant) with regard to immensely important matters, and who justified some of his most egregious deceptions on the basis that God told him to deceive. This is the same God who he said authorized him, and only him, to lead all of humanity.

The second thing one notices is that only a tiny percentage of the Mormon group is aware of the extent of the founding leader's deception, and the extent to which current leaders continue to deceive. And, when this information is presented to group members, there are two main responses. Some quickly distance themselves from the group, and the rest find a way to rationalize the leaders' behaviour (past and present) in a fashion that would be acceptable to virtually no group outsiders. That is, group outsiders almost universally and immediately conclude that anyone who would deceive about the range of things Smith did should not be believed about anything of substance, and particularly should not be believed when he claims God's unique authority to lead mankind. And the outsiders immediately recognize in Smith's behavior a well known human pattern - that of the con man who invokes the authority bias to take advantage of others. Group insiders can't see this.

All of this is consistent with the hypothesis just indicated.

And then when one goes around looking in on other religious groups who have similarly odd versions of socially constructed belief when compared to the broader society in which they find themselves, one finds similar behavoural patterns both with regard to group insiders and outsiders.

Best regards,

topic image
The Creation And Erosion Of False Faith: A Timeline
Monday, Nov 28, 2005, at 10:03 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Here is another marathon post. Sorry about that. I put this together for my own purposes and thought it might be useful to some others.


As noted on another thread (link to deleted), I was doing some file cleaning today and ran across a number of letters I wrote while leaving Mormonism. This prompted some thought with regard to how my faith was created and eroded, and I decided to record them since I have not thought about the details of this process for a long time and the perspective I have now allowed me to see some things that I had not previously seen. Most of this has to do with how pressure was building that I could even perceive until I was at the end of the process and could look back.

Some have criticized me for sharing deeply personal information in what I write. I have made the conscious decision to do this (within limits in some cases determined by my wife where events involve her) because this is precisely the kind of communication that Mormonism cuts off, and I believe that I would have benefited tremendously had others been willing and able to share experience of this kind with me.

Hence, I don’t say that I did things the “right” way or that others should follow my example. In fact, it seems clear to me now that I could have proceeded more wisely (much more wisely in some cases) had I known more about the nature of the process. So all I offer here is a review of what happened in my case and hope that this will be helpful to some others as they attempt to hear their own voices and see the path ahead of them.

And, I note that I no longer hold many of the beliefs that are contained in the several letters that are included below. A worldview can only change so fast.

Finally, I have included several letters in full because I want a record of them in this format. To make the timeline easier to follow, I have noted these letters and attached them at the end of the piece.


After writing the timeline below, I decided that it would be helpful for those reading it to appreciate the context within which I now see events before reading them. Here is a summary of that context.

We all start somewhere with inherited beliefs of many kinds. Religions beliefs are a form of inherited beliefs.

There is a powerful correlation between inherited beliefs and persistent perceptual error. That is, Mormons can spot the silliness and the JWs can spot Mormonism’s silliness, but neither can see their own problems. Inherited beliefs often create blind spots. This is attributed to various cognitive biases, the most important of which is likely the confirmation bias. Once you have committed to any particular position, this commitment makes it difficult for you to process information contra that position.

Interestingly, the smarter you are the harder the confirmation bias bites. This is thought to be because smart people are better able to find patterns in complex data sets and persuade other people to their point of view, both of which tend to support their beliefs no matter how crazy they may be to people who do not start out encumbered by them.

I would suggest that this is a reason for humility for those of us who have escaped. It is likely that we did not leave because we are the “smart one” who "thought our way out”. Rather, it is likely that we have questioning, authority resisting personalities as a result of our nature and nurture and these allowed us to see more of what is obvious to almost all those who are not subject to the confirmation bias with regard to Mormonism.

Cognitive dissonance (see at page 39) lies at the bases of the cognitive biases, including the confirmation bias. It fires up whenever any information challenges our inherited beliefs and the social networks, our conditioning, education, etc. that go along with them. All of this is, in effect, a weight that holds our existing religious beliefs in place regardless of whether they are correct.

Whether we can overcome that cognitive dissonance, and how long that will take, depends on our ability to learn and change, as determined by genetics and conditioning. Michael Shermer in his book "How We Believe" cites extensive social science research that shows that the more open a person is to new experience, as measured by a personality trait called "openness", the more likely it is that she will become less certain or more liberal in her religious views as time passes. I have collected data in the post-Mormon community online that indicates that certain Meyers-Briggs personality types are more likely to question their religious beliefs than others. Particularly, those who are introverted (as opposed to extroverted); intuitive (as opposed to sensing); and thinking (as opposed to feeling) are more likely to seriously question Mormonism. My data sample size and the manner in which it was collected, however, were such that these conclusions are tentative at best. I am in the process of preparing a larger andmore reliable survey that will address the same issue.

Our psychology seems to be designed to promote stability – to cause us not to change social groups unless the cost benefit advantages are obvious, and often not even then. This makes sense in light of the importance of being part of a well functioning group to our survival throughout most of humankind's evolutionary history. Hence, the threat of expulsion from our primary social group causes profound fear. This buttresses cognitive dissonance and makes information that challenges our beliefs more difficult to rationally evaluate. This irrational fear of leaving the group is exploited to a tee by Mormonism and other similar groups.

It takes a massive amount of learning for even a personality type predisposed toward change to overcome the weight I have described in the case of a well-conditioned Mormon. I visualize this as an old fashioned set of scales, like the scales of justice. Disconfirming experience and evidence has to be piled on the side of our scales opposite religious belief until they begin to tip. That is, we have to experience enough cognitive dissonance to make us finally question the reality we have assumed to exist. The epiphany experience many people have as they leave a controlling religious faith is related to what happens when we reach the "tipping point" on our scale. Then, suddenly, it is as if a switch were thrown and we can see all kinds of things that have been building up just out of view as a result of the work our mind has been doing to keep us in denial. Suddenly, much of this information and insight is released into the conscious mind because the unconscious can no longer hold it back. It is as if the lights suddenly came on. This experience changes most people irrevocably. Afterwards, they can perhaps fake being who they were, but they are and always will be different in fundamental ways.

For the reasons just indicated, I doubt very much that I could have thought my way out of Mormonism without several years of decompression after my stint as Bishop, which ended just over a decade ago. I needed that much time, space and energy to slowly take weight off the Mormon side of the scale and to experience cognitive dissonance producing things that would add weight to the other side.

And, perhaps most importantly, I needed time to become sentient again. I was so busy for so long that I no longer felt much outside of a narrow range of the emotional spectrum. It was the realization that something had died inside of me that got my conscious attention first. I was depressed but not so badly that I could be diagnosed as such. I went to various doctors, assuming that something was physically wrong with me. I checked out clean in each case. Only as I emerged from Mormonism did my vitality come back.

The question of limited time raised another important perspective from which to consider the phenomenon of Mormon belief.

There is only so much time. If a large percentage (almost 100%) of a person’s discretionary time is devoted to Mormon activities, there will be little chance to place life in a broad perspective and hence see Mormonism in context so that one might question whether it is what it purports to be.

This is a classic magician’s trick called “misdirection”. See As the legendary magician Jean Hugard said, "The principle of misdirection plays such an important role in magic that one might say that Magic is misdirection and misdirection is Magic". That is, magic is performed by the magician using tendencies in human perception to make us look at his left hand while his right hand (or foot, or assistant, etc.) does something that we do not notice and gives the impression that something magical has occurred.

So, if we are focused on the minutiae of living a Mormon life, the big picture will not be questioned. Hence, Mormonism (and many other religions that use the same system) are all about the details of daily living, and result in such a busy day to day existence that there is no opportunity to think about where the train is headed.

This is not the result of the plan of some evil men sitting around in the Salt Lake Temple. Rather, this is how human social organizations of all types to some extent function. They spontaneously organize to protect themselves, find the resources they need to flourish, etc. The reason that the rules of modern democracies are so important is that they run against the hierarchical gain of human groups, and so force human organizations in an unnatural direction. This requires leaders to account to members; this restrains the natural direction of power; this requires information about how and why leadership decisions are made to be disclosed to the members. Perhaps the clearest lesson from human history is that absent the constraints that democracy imposes on the power of those at the top of the social pyramid, power will be abused.

The Timeline

In any event, here is the timeline as I now see it.

1971-74: I was aged 13 to 16 during this period and in all out rebellion against Mormonism and its restrictive standards. I did not commit terrible sin, but engaged in a lot of the usual teenage experimentation – some drinking, smoking tobacco, marijuana and hashish, etc. This caused tremendous conflict with my parents. The pain this caused eventually broke me. I could see how I was hurting them and my younger brothers and sisters. I felt great guilt as a result of this and my “deviant”, “sinful” (from a Mormon point of view) behaviour that would consign to my life outside the Celestial Kingdom. As I lit up a cigarette one day I recall thinking that this life was not so bad, and since the Telestial Kingdom was like this life I would be OK. But the pain I seemed to be inflicting on my family and thought of being separated from them throughout the eternities eventually became too much for me to bear.

1974-76: I was trying to “straighten up” and eventually did so. This healed the rift with my family. I was a classic returned prodigal who was celebrated in many ways.

1977-79: I served a Mormon mission in southern Peru. I was a completely straight arrow missionary. The pain I experienced while playing at the edges of the teenage road made me decide that the only way to go was straight up the middle.

1979-89: I continued as a straight arrow. God blesses those who are obedient and who sacrifice for him. I was committed to doing all I was asked to do by the Mormon Church. My wife and I married. Our family started 10 months later. We had four kids while I earned three university degrees. I served as various class and quorum instructors, stake missionary, YM pres., Stake YM presidency, High Counselor. I did not miss a single home teaching visit. The law firm I joined, the nature of legal practice I choose (tax), the city where we lived, the part of city where we lived, and many other foundational decisions were made on the basis of what would be best from a “service to the kingdom” perspective. My main goal in life was to experience the receipt of God’s confidence and power described in Helaman 10.

I was acutely aware that from the time I had “gone straight” I had succeeded in virtually everything I had attempted, and believed that my success had been negligible prior to that. This I attributed to God’s blessing and cursing. I had not yet noticed how ill my wife was, and how desolate our relationship was. This was largely the result of my neglect and the ridiculous burden she imposed on herself as a result of constant pregnancy and effectively raising our children alone. Her individuality had dissolved.

1989: We decided to leave Vancouver, British Columbia. Living there required too much commuting and not enough time at home. The realization of how bad our marriage situation was slowly dawning. The realization that the pace at church was too great was buried in the background, but starting to call for attention and being pushed down. I accepted job in another city and was called as Bishop two days later. I told the SP about why had decided to leave Vancouver, etc. He told me that God had work for me to do there and that if I had the faith to accept I would be blessed to be able to deal with my problems. I told him to go away and fast, pray etc. and tell me he was sure that he was speaking for God. He did, and called me early in the morning the following day at work to tell me so. So I told him I would serve as required, hung up the phone, knelt down and begged God to make me equal to the task. I believed he would, but was terrified.

I then called the law firm whose offer of employment I had accepted a few days before and asked to be released from my contractual commitment to them, and then went to the firm I worked for (where I had resigned a couple of days before) and asked for my old job back. I am sure both firms thought I was nuts, but one released me and the other gave me my job back.

1989-93: I served as Bishop. We had two more kids. The pace of life went from frenetic to crazy. Our marriage and my wife’s health continued to decline without being noticed. Exhaustion set in. But being constantly admitted into the most intimate details of other peoples’ lives, being trusted, obeyed, and told how wonderful you are has a way of buoying one up. I am deeply conflicted now with regard to many of the friendships that were formed during this time. They were based, in my view, on false pretences. To continue, each has had to be placed on a new and completely different footing. This is a difficult process that I have only been able to successfully negotiate in a few cases.

I was still completely obedient to Mormon authority. For example, after about three years as Bishop I told the SP that we had decided that after six kids that it was time for me to have a vasectomy. The Handbook of Instructions indicated that this decision should not be made without the counsel of ecclesiastical leaders, and counseled against it. To make sure my memory on this point is accurate, I looked the GHI up to. Here is what it says:

“Surgical Sterilization (Including Vasectomy). ‘Surgical sterilization should only be considered (1) where medical conditions seriously jeopardize life or health, or (2) where birth defects or serious trauma have rendered a person mentally incompetent and not responsible for his or her actions. Such conditions must be determined by competent medical judgment and in accordance with law. Even then, the person or persons responsible for this decision should consult with each other and with their bishop (or branch president) and receive divine confirmation through prayer’ (11-5).”

I told him that my wife was not coping well; etc. He questioned the wisdom of taking this step, noting that my wife and I were young (35 and 32 respectively), and that he and his wife had 8 kids and one of his counsellors had 10 and the other 7. The second counsellor’s wife had her children all in circumstances of difficult health. Her referred me to the GHI (see above) where it counsels against vasectomy and suggested that we continue to use the forms of birth control that had so far resulted in four pregnancies. He noted that if my wife's health was that bad, that perhaps a hysterectomy might be in order. I was irritated, but changed my plans according to his advice.

Later, as the end of my five year term as Bishop approached I told the SP that my wife and I had decided to move to a different and smaller city after I was released because our family situation (commuting, too much time on church stuff etc.) was killing our marriage and family life. The SP told me that the stake presidency would be reorganized shortly (stake split) and that I was likely to be called to new SPresidency. He told me that he felt that God had work for me to do in the new SPresidency. In my first small act of defiance of Mormon authority, I told him that I was confident that we should move, and would do so despite what he told me. I told him that when I fasted and prayed (and I had done a lot of that) about this issue I felt perfectly at peace with moving and my stomach churned at the thought of staying. I asked him if he was in a position to extend a calling to me (knowing that he was not) and said that absent that, I would leave. I felt comfortable with the idea that God had accepted that our family’s needs would be better met in another city, and that there I would do what I could to take low profile church callings that would not require the time away from my family that had I to put as Bishop. We parted on friendly terms and a few months later, I accepted a job in a new city, told the SP when I would be leaving, was duly released, and left.

One of my last acts as Bishop was to deal with a man who resigned his membership on the basis of things he had learned about Joseph Smith’s polygamous activities. I counselled him unsuccessfully several times, did not read the literature he gave me on the basis that history is so uncertain that you can’t know what to believe, and gave him some Hugh Nibley books. I was not fazed in the slightest as far as I could tell by this encounter. However, I had started to question some doctrinal matters that did not make sense to me. These were minor questions, from my point of view then - inconsistencies that would be eventually cleared up. I took the approach of Camilla Kimball (see her biography – she also drank wine while with Spencer on a Church trip to France) with regard to these matters. That is, I had a few “chestnuts” that I kept up on a mental shelf that I occasionally took down and chewed on, and then put back up. They didn’t bother me in a material way as far as I knew. I made no connection between what I had been told about Smith (teenage girls; huge number of wives; lying; etc.) and my other concerns.

1993-2001: Once in our new city I was exhausted and went to see several doctors in an effort to find a medical reason for how I felt. I was told that I was simply exhausted and that should stop trying to do so much. I now realize that I was close to a nervous breakdown. The effort required to be Bishop had completely sapped my strength and I while I acknowledged that I could not acknowledge how close to the brink I was.

It took several years for my energy to gradually come back. I think that I had in some ways hit a “growth” wall as well. The administrative challenge of making life work as Bishop was more than enough to fully occupy me. But once that was gone and I needed to find meaning in the practice and study of Mormonism as a regular member, I found more and more that did not make sense and so shied away from study. I now know that I need a relatively high level of intellectual stimulation unless I am so busy that I don't notice this need. And it is not healthy for me to be that busy.

Attending Sunday School and Priesthood classes was painful because of their repetitious nature and ridiculous things that were often taught there. Human nature, as far as I can tell, is strongly orientated toward innovation and leaning. Mormon discourages this beyond the basics, and encourages a deadening attitude of “enduring to the end”. This causes death from the head down at an early age, and is likely connected to the statistics regarding Mormon anti-depressant use.

But the problems with Mormonism I had found were all ignorable. I had still not read anything but the Nibley kind of stuff. And anyway, the Gospel is perfect, not the Church or the people. This was the place for me to exercise my spiritual muscles precisely because the people were so imperfect. Bla, bla, bla.

In our new ward I was immediately called as scout master. Our oldest son was about to become a scout so I accepted. About a year later I was called to be the YM pres. in same ward, which would have resulted in my having to leave my son and take care of someone else's kids. I begged the Bishop to reconsider on basis that I wished to spend my “church time” with my son. I still believed that if called, after explaining the circumstances fully to the person issuing the call, I must accept. The Bishop allowed me to remain with the scouts. Had he not, this might have put me over the edge. During this period I missed the first few home teaching visits of my adult life and felt terribly guilty about that. I tended to form close relationships with the families I home taught, and these misses came after my “route” was arbitrarily changed. I blamed my derogation of duty on still being tired, but could hear a little voice telling me that it was because I was pissed at the HP group leader who had made these nonsensical changes after I had invested so heavily in service to and friendship with “my” families. This little voice scared me.

After three years with the scouts we moved to a new ward in the same city and Stake. I was immediately called to the Stake YM presidency. After a year in that position, I was called to be Stake Mission Pres. I accepted on condition that I did not have to put in the 10 hours per week technically required by the calling, and would have not to call other stake missionaries to account for this. I had always felt this time requirement was a ridiculous rule that hardly anyone obeyed and hence caused many people to feel guilty. I had not required it of the stake missionaries in my ward while I was bishop.

After about six months as Stake Mission President the SPresidency went through two successive reorganizations. On both occasions a number of people approached me and indicated that they had heard, or were sure, that I was about to be called into the SPresidency. I pleaded with God not to do that to me. Our family situation was worsening in some ways as the seeds of my neglect came home to roost. Our oldest daughter was going through all kinds of trouble; my wife continued in relatively ill health but resisted seeking treatment, etc. I had my speech prepared in the event I was called, but felt that if the calling was extended in any event I would have to accept. In neither case was I called. The relief I felt was tremendous. I suspect I missed that bullet in part because of the clear conditions I had put around my calling as Stake Mission President that related to what I perceived to be my needs at home at the time. Had I been called into the SPresidency, I would have given it my best shot and likely not beenin the mental space required to make the changes I later did.

- July - Sept 2001: I had a three month sabbatical from the practice of law during which for the first time since my teenage years I had time to think and fully unwind. This was a wonderful, new experience. I visited my mission field with my family and had a wonderful time connecting with families I had converted while there, all of whom were still "faithful". I was unaware of any spiritual "trouble" on the horizon, but loosened up in a number of ways in terms of my commitment to work and realized how frenetic our lifestyle still was. I could tell that the time to think about what I was doing in life was healthy, and committed to making that more a part of how I lived. Ironically, this was encouraged by a seminar I attended at BYU while on a Marriott School of Management program that focused on how modern society (of course not the Mormon Church) tended to make us into “human doings” instead of “human beings”. I committed to try to become better at “being”.

- November 2001: Our eldest son (my little scout) left for a Mormon mission in the Ukraine. My remarks at his farewell can be found at I was still serving as Stake Mission Pres. I had some extremely irritating experiences while trying to arrange for his departure to occur so that he could return without losing a full year of university. His departure was, it seemed, eventually designed to do precisely what I had diplomatically tried to avoid. In the end, he lost a full academic year. I wondered at the time if someone was attempting to teach me humility as a result of the polite request I had made. But I wrote it off as not a big deal and did not think or worry about it. People are sometimes petty. The Gospel is true; the people are imperfect, etc.

- Sometime in 2001: The Mission President with whom I worked as Stake Mission President tried to introduce a new proselytizing program that required more than the usual extreme use of guilt and fear on member missionaries (ie. all members). I refused to cooperate on the basis that carrots work better than sticks, and I found the proposed approach personally objectionable. In a carefully controlled meeting with the other Stake Mission Presidents in our and an adjoining Region, I was shown a video during which Spencer Kimball (I think) clearly advocated the tactics the Mission Pres. wanted us to use. The other Stake Mission presidents in attendance agreed to go along. I surprised myself by flatly, on the spot and in public, refusing to have my Stake participate. I was particularly irritated at the attempt to manipulate me and the others present through the use of group dynamics (show the film; ask for public commitment one by one starting with those known to be ready to commit; etc.). I invited the Mission Pres. to take the matter up with my Stake Pres. if he wished. Mouths dropped all over the room. The Mission Pres. was a former senior executive with the O.C. Tanner company, and was clearly irritated with my unwillingness to get in line and march when told to do so. His counselor, one of my long time friends, took my aside afterwards and begged me to not make his life any more difficult than I already had.

I still had no concerns with regard to the Mormon Church as an institution, but was not prepared to bow to authority as I had been. My SP never spoke to me about the matter.

I recognized at the time that the manner in which I had simply and publicly defied the Mission Pres. meant that I had crossed some kind of a line, but I did not think enough about this to recognize what was happening. My relationship to Mormon authority was changing. I believe that this would have happened much earlier had I not been on the authority side of the equation for so long. The study of cognitive biases (the "principle of insufficient justification" in particular) explains why this should be expected to be the case. See at page 48.

I had also become a “regular” home teacher. That is, I did my home teaching about as often as the other members of the HP quorum – maybe 50%. I still felt guilty about this, but excused myself on the basis of how tough things still were around our home with first one daughter and then another running into huge problems.

- March 2002: I resigned as Stake Mission President for "family reasons". We had a number of challenges with a couple of our children and my wife and I felt that we needed to focus on things at home. However, things were no more difficult at this point than they had been for a couple of years. I was unaware of any changes to my faith that may have been then occurring. However, I wonder now if a New Yorker article that one of my Mormon partners passed on to me for comment may have had something to do with this. You can find it at I wrote a lengthy Nibleyesque critique and gave it back to my partner and invited him to circulate it. He later reported that his father-in-law (a General Authority) had commented favourably with regard to my analysis. I was perceived in the Mormon community as one of the intellectual “defenders of the faith” and for that reason my partner had given the article tome. However, some of the questions that New Yorker article raised did not simply go away. And I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach as I read it for the first time. After writing my rebuttal, however, I felt fine on the surface at least. The questions, I now believe, percolated in my subconscious.

July 2002: A friend called me to tell me that his son had left Mormonism as a result of things he had found on the Internet. He had been our Bishop before I was called to take his place and has done numerous kind things for us over the years. I had been his son’s bishop, his Venturer leader, had counseled him through some tough times as a rebellious youth, and sent him on a mission. I was very close to both father and son. I thought, “That kid is in over his head. I will get on the Internet, find the stuff that concerned him and straighten him out.”

The next morning, a Monday, I typed “anti-Mormon” into Google. I had never read anything about religion on the Internet or any anti-Mormon literature except as Bishop some of the “Godmakers” while helping a ward member with that while Bishop. The “Godmakers” strengthened my Mormon testimony. That book uses the wrong approach to reach Mormons. It is designed to keep Baptists out of Mormonism, not help Mormonism to see the weakness of their own position.

In any event, for the next three weeks I did very little legal work or anything else, other than read Mormonism (pro and con) from early awakening to late and troubled falling into bed. I went back and forth between FARMS and academic sources, having quickly determined that the General Authorities and most strident of the anti-Mormons were not worth paying attention to. I had diarrhea during most of that period, and off and on for many months following.

I stopped attending Church, but found work and family travel excuses each week to excuse that.

I mentioned to my wife that I was seriously questioning some aspects of our beliefs, and the emotional nature of her response warned me not to say anything else until I was sure what I needed to do.

August 2002: My surrender is described This is not exactly how it occurred, but the emotional impact is accurately conveyed. Then I had to decide what to do.

I started to frantically try to find the bottom of the pool in terms of "truth", and entered what I will always remember of one of the most exciting phases of my life. That is, as terrifying as the “destruction” of false faith is, the construction of a realistic worldview that is truly one’s own is wonderful. I spontaneously teared up at least one a week at the joy of discovering how connected I was to humanity; how sensible science was; how rich other faith and philosophical traditions were, etc.

And the joy of freedom! This did not hit home fully until I was able to come out of the closet. A gay friend who is familiar with my experience tells me that the emotional territory I was travelling at this point is almost identical to what many gays experience as they "come out".

October 2, 2002: With an incredibly poor sense of timing that my wife will never let me forget, I took her away for a overnight trip to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary and told her that I no longer believed; was not going to participate in Mormon services anymore; would teach our children about my beliefs; was breaching my temple covenants of obedience; and that I loved her more than ever and wanted to recommit to her as a marriage partner on terms by which we could both live. She went ballistic, and for many months that followed we struggled to determine whether our marriage would survive.

October 2002: After Juli and I had our talk and spent a miserable night together, we returned home and the next day I called the kids together and told them what I had decided to do and let them ask any questions they wanted. This went surprisingly well. Two daughters aged 16 and 21 at the time told me how happy they were; that they had never believed. They still say that they felt like being let out of prison. Both immediately began to be more open with me about what was going on in their lives.

The younger kids (aged 12, 10 and 8) were concerned because they could tell that uncertainty was in the air as far as our family was concerned. However, they have each adjusted well. None of them has any inclination to return to Mormon activity. Our son in the mission field and daughter at BYU took the news very badly and are both still active Mormons.

I told the kids at home that we should not talk to others about what I had decided to do because they would not understand. I was still not sure about whether I would attend LDS services on some basis, etc.

October 24, 2002: I sent a letter to my friend and Bishop resigning my callings. It is attached as Appendix A.

October - November 2002: Shortly after I sent the letter to the Bishop, one of my Mormon partners (I am a partner in a large law firm; in our office at the time we had about 40 partners of whom five were LDS) came into my office, closed the door and told me that he had heard I was having an affair with my secretary and that he understood how these things happen, etc. and wanted to assure me that he was still my friend, was there for me, etc. It then came out that he had also heard that I was questioning my Mormon beliefs, which would make sense if I was having an affair. One of my daughters, it turned out, had told one of her friends “in confidence” about our family meeting, and the word had spread like wildfire. My partner lived two stakes away on the far side of a city of 1,000,000 people. Adultery was a much more palatable explanation for my change in belief than the most careful, prayer, consideration of my like.

As a result, I sent a letter to 30 of my Mormon business associates that was designed to make sure that I was not savaged by the rumour mill. It is found in Appendix B.

November - December 2002: Within a week of the above letter going out, my SP contacted me. We met once alone, and once with a local GA. The day after the meeting with the GA, I sent him the letter attached as Appendix C.

A couple of days later the SP told me that after consulting with the GA and others in Salt Lake City that he felt that he had no choice but to require that I agree not to talk to anyone outside my immediately family about my beliefs, or resign my membership, or go through the “court of love” process.

I immediately resigned. My resignation letter is attached as Appendix D.

December 2002 – November 2005: My beliefs have continued to evolve toward secular humanism. I am thrilled with life. My marriage survived (thank goodness) and my wife is doing better emotionally and physically than at any other time in our marriage.

This process has not been easy, but now that I understand it I would not hesitate to go down the same road again. We are programmed to fear what we don’t understand, and since we have no experience with what is on the outside of Mormonism, there is no way for us to appreciate the good things that await those who are prepared to challenge Mormonism’s false authority. I am grateful to whatever it is that allowed me to have this experience.

Best regards,

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Mormon Relationships - Its About Time
Monday, Nov 28, 2005, at 10:11 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I attended the funeral of a business associate the other day. He died tragically at age 50 of cancer. At his funeral were members of his hockey and fast pitch teams. He had played on those teams for over 20 years with the same group of guys, gradually drifting down through the divisions from “open” to “old fart” over the years with the athletic activity gradually being replaced by social relationships as the focus of the team. This made me ache for what might have been, and decide to pursue the same kind of relationship are my relatively advanced age (47).

Relationships of the kind my deceased friend had are rare within Mormonism, unless your ward boundaries and callings don’t change for over 20 years. That is, personal relationships of all kinds are determined not by preference, what you like to do, etc., but by the way in which the Mormon Church functions. This is only one of countless ways in which the Mormon Church inserts itself into our most intimate relationships with the result if not the intent that our relationship to Mormonism remains primary and all other relationships subsidiary.

This results from the fact that Mormonism’s primary objective is to create the strongest possible institution. Hence, its social structures are set up to do this and so the relationships sponsored by Mormonism are relatively weak. Strong personal relationships, after all, would likely interfere with allegiance to the institution. All the way along the road Mormons are required in uncounted ways to affirm the primacy of their relationship to the institution. This is usually presented a commitment to God.

So, the Mormon Church impedes the development of real friendship by keeping people so busy that the only relationships one has time to nurture are those related to church callings. This is yet more evidence of the way in which Mormonism puts it institutional interests ahead of those of its members. The image of human bodies being used as anesthetized batteries to run the machine world in the Matrix series is a useful caricature in this regard. Consider the following in this regard:

Time and “Misdirection”

It is all about time. This is where the scam has its roots.

There is only so much time. If a large percentage (almost 100%) of a person’s discretionary time is devoted to Mormon activities, there will be little chance to place life in a broad perspective and hence see Mormonism in context so that one might question whether it is what it purports to be.

This is a classic magician’s trick called “misdirection”. See As the legendary magician Jean Hugard said, "The principle of misdirection plays such an important role in magic that one might say that Magic is misdirection and misdirection is Magic". That is, magic is performed by the magician using tendencies in human perception to make us look at his left hand while his right hand (or foot, or assistant, etc.) does something that we do not notice and gives the impression that something magical has occurred.

One of my favorite magic tricks (and one of the few that is simple enough for me to do) is performed as follows. A group of people is seated in chairs and watching the trick. I put my hands in front of the subject’s face, and about a foot away from her nose. I show her a handkerchief with my left hand, and then while moving my hands around each other in a circular manner that is supposed to look confusing but not be confusing, I stuff the handkerchief into my closed right fist so that an edge is still visible. While doing so, I close my left hand into an identical fist. I then ask her where the handkerchief is. She points to the right hand.

I repeat this procedure twice more. Each time the subject easily spots the handkerchief.

Now, having defined the “relevant space” and “relevant actions” for my subject, I know that her attention will be focused on the area around my hands in front of her and on what my hands have done the past three times. This time as I move my hands in precisely the circular motion I have trained her to watch, I release the handkerchief from my left hand and it flies quickly over her head. This is obvious to everyone else in the room because they stand at a distance from the action that allows them to see the handkerchief as it hangs in the air for a second and falls to the floor. However, the subject has the chance to see the handkerchief as it moves about 12 inches before passing out of her field of vision, and she is focused on the area a few inches around my hands. While the human eye is quick enough to pick motion of this sort up, when “misdirected” it will not do so. The subject looks foolish when she assumes that the handkerchief is in the right hand again, and is amazed when it is not in either hand.

And misdirection is much more powerful that this. My favorite object lesson in this regard can be found on the Internet (though I could not find it now), where I once say a video clip of people passing a basketball between them. Five (I think) people are dressed in light colored clothes, are walking in a complicated pattern and are passing a light colored ball between them. You are told to count the number of times the ball moves from one person to another. This is not easy to do because of the way they move in front of each other while passing the ball around. After the video is over (maybe 30 seconds) you are asked if you noticed anything “odd”. I didn’t. “You didn’t see the gorilla?” you are asked. “Nope” was my response. So you replay the video.

While the people are walking through their pattern and passing the ball, a man dressed in a black gorilla suit walks into the middle of the group, turns toward the camera, lifts his arms and makes a face, and then walks out of the frame. It is that obvious. And I did not see it because I was focused on who was passing the ball to whom, and the gorilla was dressed like the background (dark) instead of the figures (light). But once you knew that something “odd” had happened and paid close attention, this was as obvious as the computer sitting right now on the desk in front of me. It was “magical” when the gorilla appeared out of thin air.

Such is the power of misdirection.

Mormon Misdirection

So, if we are sufficiently focused on the minutiae of living a Mormon life, the big picture will not be questioned. Hence, Mormonism (and many other religions that use the same system) are all about the details, routine and ritual of daily living, and result in such a busy day to day existence that there is little opportunity to think about where the train is headed.

This is not the result of the plan of some evil men sitting around in the Salt Lake Temple. Rather, this is how human social organizations of all types to some extent function. They spontaneously organize to protect themselves, find the resources they need to flourish, etc. The reason that the rules of modern democracies are so important is that they run against the hierarchical grain of human groups, and so force human organizations in an unnatural direction. This requires leaders to account to members; this restrains the natural direction of hierarchical power; this requires information about how and why leadership decisions are made to be disclosed to the members.

Perhaps the clearest lesson from human history is that absent the constraints that democracy imposes on the power of those at the top of the social pyramid, power will be abused.

Mormon Relationships

How does, then, Mormonism affect our relationships?


This is arguably (and hopefully) our most intimate relationship. As such, it contains a power that can either work for or against the social organization. Mormonism adroitly harnesses this power to work it. See

The Mormon Church is institutionalized as a third party to the marriage relationships. Both spouses make promises in the marriage ceremony of obedience to Mormonism. If one spouse falters in this commitment, the marriage is in trouble. Mormons are encouraged to marry young and to immediately put down anchors in terms of the wife staying home to have kids so that if the Church relationship is threatened there is a lot at stake.

Other Family Relationships

I often thought, and said, while Mormon that I deeply appreciated the way in which the Mormon Church helped me to raise my children. In exchange for my spending time with their kids as YM president, others spent time with my younger children. Parents, I thought, could not do certain things for their own kids, and so it was good that I had a village to help me raise my kids. It was a cooperative.

What I did not realize was that by weakening the primary bonds between parents and children, for example, and by substituting relationships that are brokered by Mormonism, the Mormon Church was gradually taking a control position with my own children.

I should have seen this coming because when my own ultra orthodox Mormon parents suggested to my wife and I when we married that perhaps waiting a year or two to start our family would be a good idea, we both thought that they were becoming a bit worldly, and accepted instead the advice of our even more ultra orthodox Mormon institute director (I was the LDSSA President at our university at the time) to "not put off bringing spirits into mortality" for any reason. Baby no. 1 was born 9.5 months after our marriage.

When I told my children that my beliefs had changed, two of the oldest four were sufficiently conditioned by Mormonism (as ages 20 and 18 respectively) that they distanced themselves from me. Our son, who was serving his mission at the time, expressly refused for a long time to look at anything I wanted him to read because, "I respect your intellect Dad, and you have been deceived. Whatever has deceived you can deceive me, so I can't afford to take the chance of looking at it." He now says he will look, but as far as I can tell has not done so in a meaningful way.


Friendships are usually formed on the basis four things: Neighborhood proximity; children’s activities; personal interest; and professional interests.

The Mormon mindset (we are the chosen; we are in the world but not of the world; etc.), social organization and time requirements all interfere with each of these relationship forming mechanisms.

For a Mormon, neighborhood proximity is not as important to the opportunity to be friends as which ward she is in. There is not enough time for close friendships with neighbors in the usual fashion because of the time spent attending to Mormon ward activities. And when the ward boundaries change or someone moves a short distance but out of the ward, friendships change. If you don’t see people at church at the various activities each week, it is hard to maintain friendships on the basis of the time otherwise available. If they move out of the Stake, or the Stake boundaries change, the may as well have gone to Europe. I remember lamenting this many times as ward and stake boundaries changed and people moved to new neighborhoods close by but in different wards.

Children’s activities are dominated by Mormonism, and to the extent that our kids are involved in the community we run into the time problem again when it comes to developing non-Mormon friendships. Just when are you going to see these non-Mormon friends, particularly if you are on the Mormon leadership track?

The same sort of thing can be said of the friendships one has at work or as a result of hobbies. Life’s focus is directed toward what happens at church.

As callings change within the ward, and particularly as home and visiting teaching callings change, the amount of time we spend with different people radically changes. Think was happens if one is moved from the Elder’s Quorum Presidency into the Young Men’s Presidency? Or from the Relief Society to the Primary? Social life is largely reorganized as a result. Thus the message of obedience, and primary of the institution over the individual, is constantly reinforced.

How many true friends do you see regularly, once a month? How many of those friends consistently call you on the 29th or 30th and ask you to inconvenience yourself to set aside some time within the next two days for a visit? I remember flinching once before calling an non-member spouse of a ward member to do just this – knowing that it would be apparent to him that I was performing a duty instead of visiting a friend. But I did it. I apologized to him for the late call, but asked if he could nonetheless set aside some time the following night to chat with me. He sighed, and said yes.

This is an unnatural form of human social association. It is institutional. And if a friendship happens to be spawned during the course of such a HT or VT association it is highly unlikely to endure. I was so busy while Mormon that I did not occur to me to try to maintain close contact with former home teaching families after my assignment changed. It was simply not possible.

And what of the sports team relationships that I noted my recently deceased friend enjoyed so much? Very few Mormons participate on teams of this kind. Again, they are too busy. If they play sports they are likely to be Mormon sponsored teams. Those are subject to the vagaries of Ward boundary changes and so seldom endure over many years.

God Is In Control

I remember becoming aware in my mid-20s of the reality I have described above, and thinking that it was a good thing. That I was allowing God to determine who I associated with and who not. That God would use this to bring people into my life “for a reason” and so school me in his ways. Among the many bad things that happened as a result of this attitude is the worst (by a long ways) investment I have ever made. A relationship based on a Mormon calling blossomed into a business deal in which far too much confidence was placed in my Mormon colleague in large measure as a result of my “this is God’s way of guiding my life” attitude. I and other people we invested in this venture as a result in large measure of their respect for my judgment lost a total of more than $3,000,000 Cdn. as a result of my error. I am still paying for this bit of education and will continue to do so for a long time.

Children’s Friendships

On the way out of Mormonism we realized that we were in effect limiting our children’s circle of friends to the Mormon kids. We were not doing this overtly, but as we stopped attending Mormon meetings our kids’ friends changed. And in each case I can say that the “fit” between our kids and their friends improved. I believe that this is because the kids had a larger pool to choose from, and were able to find people to whom they more naturally related – with whom they more naturally resonated – than the Mormon kids with whom they used to associate.


I do not suggest that all Mormon relationships are puerile. I value some of my Mormon friendships still. However, it is clear that Mormonism’s primary interest is a strong institution. Hence, its social structures are set up with this as the primary objective and as a result, the relationships sponsored by Mormonism are poor relative to what can be expected of relationships formed on a more organic basis in the community at large.

Remember to watch for the gorilla.

Best regards,

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Religion And "Attachment Theory"
Thursday, Dec 1, 2005, at 12:03 PM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
This is an excerpt from "How Denial Works" (version 2) at If version 2 is not yet up when you check the document, wait for it to start reading or make a copy.



Attachment Theory

Attachment theory applies the principles of evolutionary psychology to the study of child-parent relations and has been extended by some researchers to adult romantic relationships and other researchers (see Kirkpatrick and Faber below) to the relationship between individuals and religious groups or ideologies. In light of the cognitive bias research we have already reviewed, it is fair to suggest that the application of attachment theory to religious behaviour is closely related to the authority and conformist biases, or perhaps tells us something about their origins.

Lee Kirkpatrick, (see “Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion” in what is likely the best book published on this topic so far, indicates that attachment is just one of a large number of evolved behavioural systems that comprise human nature and are relevant to how different kinds of religious beliefs can be expected to affect the behaviour of different kinds of people. He indicates that attachment theory is particularly explanatory with regard to how many monotheists (for example, Christians, Jews and Muslims) relate to their religious beliefs and groups, and are affected by them.

Kirkpatrick’s statement as to why be believes attachment theory is a good place to start with regard to understanding monotheistic behaviour in particular is worth repeating in large measure Here it is, from the introduction of his book:

First, attachment theory is a fundamentally psychological theory. It was developed initially as a theory of infant social development, particularly focusing on the ways in which experience with caregivers shapes subsequent behavior and social relations; it was in no way developed specifically for the purpose of describing or explaining religion. ...

Second, attachment theory is more comprehensive than most alternatives currently extant in the psychology of religion. … It is not a theory about emotion, behavior, cognition, or physiology; it is a theory about all of these and, most important, about how all of these are integrated in an organized, functional way. The theory includes both normative and individual-difference components, which are needed if we wish to answer both normative questions (Why are people religious?) and individual-difference questions (Why are different people religious in different ways?) about religion.

Third, attachment theory is deeply explanatory. It does not merely describe how infants interact with their mothers, or adult romantic partners with one another, but purports to explain why humans are built in such a way that they behave this way. It not only provides a descriptive typology for conceptualizing individual differences in people’s orientations toward personal relationships and intimacy, it purports to explain how these differences come about and why the system works in this rather than some other way. This functional, process-oriented approach enables its application to other phenomena such as religion, offering a basis for addressing questions about both the causes of and individual differences in religious belief and behavior.

Fourth, attachment theory is unambiguously a scientific theory. It has been supported by countless empirical studies reflecting a multitude of methodologies and populations, meaning not only that we can have considerable confidence in it, but also that it has clearly been demonstrated to be amenable to empirical testing. Perhaps equally important, however, is the fact that its application to religion is not laden by evaluative baggage. In contrast to earlier psychoanalytic formulations that presuppose religion to be inherently infantile, regressive, and mentally unhealthy, attachment theory provides a more value-neutral theoretical basis for understanding many of the same aspects of religious belief in which Freud was interested. Like Freud’s theory, attachment theory focuses on human concerns about comfort and protection, and God is psychologically represented as a kind of parent figure. However, from an attachment theory perspective, there is absolutely nothing assumed to be “infantile” or “regressive” about any of this. As Bowlby argued cogently and other researchers have subsequently explored in depth, attachment system processes are designed to operate across the entire lifespan. Attachment theory thus provides a scientific view of how humans are designed with respect to these issues in a way that is inherently neither pro- nor antireligious.

The theory of attachment as it applies to children suggests that the manner in which a child relates to her parents – the form of attachment between child and parent – affects the way in which the child relates to many aspects of her environment. For example, one stream of research suggests that there are three common attachment “styles” demonstrated by infants to their parents. These are called Secure Attachment Anxious-Ambivalent Insecure Attachment Anxious-Avoidant Insecure Attachment, Disorganized Attachment. In each case, the nature of the nature of the attachment to the parent or primary caregiver is mirrored to an extent by other aspects of the infant’s behaviour.

For example, the manner in which a child relates to its mother might be observed in a way that would allow the child’s attachment style to be determined. Then other aspects of its behaviour would be observed. In such experiments, a correlation has been found between children who are securely attached to their mothers and children who tend to explore freely while the mother is present, will engage with strangers, will be visibly upset when the mother departs, and happy to see the mother return. The theory says that children are best able to explore when they have the knowledge of a secure base to return to in times of need. When assistance is given, this bolsters the sense of security and also, assuming the mother's assistance is helpful, educates the child in how to cope with the same problem in the future. Therefore, secure attachment can be seen as the most adaptive attachment style. According to some psychological researchers, a child becomes securely attached when the mother is available and able to meetthe needs of the child in a responsive and appropriate manner. Others have pointed out that there are also other determinants of the child's attachment (including genetic factors), and that behaviour of the parent may in turn be influenced by the child's behaviour.

Other researchers detected similar patterns of behaviour in adult romantic relationships. Securely attached people are able to place trust in their partner which, in turn, means they can confidently spend time apart. People with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style may have difficulties because their way of behaving in relationships can be seen as needy or clingy by their partner. They are prone to worry about whether their partner loves them or whether they are valued by their partner. People with an avoidant-attachment style are uncomfortable being close to others. They have difficulties in trusting other people and do not like to depend on others. These patterns are believed to develop in infancy, but can be modified as people enter into new relationships.

M.D. Faber in “The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief: Searching for Angels and the Parent-God” (see also develops the attachment theme along the religious axis, but in a narrower (and less helpful in my view) fashion than Kirkpatrick.

Faber focuses on how our earliest biological needs, our dependence on our parents and their endless satisfying of those needs predisposes us toward a belief in a kind of God that would treat us in similar fashion. Faber makes a good case for the way in which some religions exploit this “weakness” in our character with which our biology has equipped us. As he puts it:

[Churches] strive to trigger state-dependent memories of the early period through formal, diurnal practices… [Religion] has shrewdly played into man’s most childlike needs, not only by offering eternal guarantees for an omniscient power’s benevolence (if properly appeased) but by magic words and significant gestures, soothing sounds and soporific smells – an infant’s world… Thus religion is a cunning, unconscious method of preserving the tie to the… original mother and father… We can play the game of life in two directions, staying put and moving on… And so it is with religion… Not only does one get the caregiver back, but one gets the caregiver back in an idealized form. One is not alone, and one has nothing to fear from a just and merciful God.

The basic biological situation, the implicit memories, the desperate anxiety associated with separation, and every church’s deliberate and clever attempt to seduce innocent minds – such factors travel a great distance in explaining monotheism’s virtually irresistible attraction for humanity, including the most intelligent and educated among us.

Both Faber and Kirkpatrick note that not all religions present the kind of a God just described – one that infantilises His followers. Many religions, and the Eastern religions in particular (at least as they tend to be interpreted in the West) posit a god that likely encourages us to grow out of ideas of dependence and attachment. In fact, Buddha blamed “attachment” for most of what ails humankind (see And Marvin Levine (see “The Positive Psychology of Buddhism and Yoga”) does a fine job of pointing out many of the ways in which some aspects of Eastern “religious” wisdom is well prescribed for what ails Westerners.

This reminds me of the various ways in which different kinds of religions have been categorized by religious studies scholars. We have, simply, “good religion” v. “bad religion”, “sick-souled” v. “healthy-minded”, “mature” v. “immature”, “intrinsic” v. “extrinsic”, etc. As we attempt to characterize religion in terms of the positive or negative attachment style, we are making this kind of value judgment. That is, we are defining where a particular religions ideology stands relative to what we value. We are not defining something essential about the religion. There are many people who believe that the best religions, for example, are those that cause the most complete dependence of the worshiper on the worshipped. Indeed, the most of the Muslim faith and large parts of Christianity are so premised.

There is, of course, a vigorous debate in this field along nature v. nurture lines. To what extent, for example, does how Mom parents cause the attachment style and to what extent is it innate? Does the nature of one’s belief in God affect parental attachment, and vice versa? And how much can that vary in accordance with the romantic experience in adulthood? Many other similar questions are being asked.

Various fine books have been recently written on the nature v. nurture topic in general. Among my favourites are Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” and Quartz and Sejnowski “Liars, Lovers and Heroes”. None of them dare do more than point the way, and indicate that most of our major behaviour characteristics have large components of both nature and nurture.
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Are Mormonism's Highest Leaders Aware Of Those Who Leave Mormonism For Principled Reasons?
Tuesday, Dec 6, 2005, at 08:10 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
That was the question put to me recently. Here is my answer.



Hi *,

Sorry for the delay, I have been running lately.

I think that the leaders are noticing, but not reacting in the manner you and I would likely hope. I heard a while ago, for example, about a large number of bishops in the SLC area who have simply resigned and stated reasons like mine for doing so during the past year. This does not indicate that the organization is going to collapse, but can be counted on to influence Mormon leadership action.

Here are the things I observe along those lines.

- A greater emphasis on the idea that faithful members should stay off the internet related Mormon sources. These sources are cancerous, etc. People like me are used as examples of how even the "very elect" can be deceived. My own RM son uses that one me. And I have heard of two lessons recently taught here in SS and HP group that used me for that purpose. And I am no big fish. Each area will have a few people like me. More now than ever.

- A fellow I know very well was recently called as Bishop. And I also know very well the SP who called him. That combination would have been unthinkable a short time ago due to the nature of the new bishop. He is a sheep. He is not a thinker; two inches deep at most. He will love the profile of being bishop, but will not be effective in any aspect of its execution. His apprecation of human nature is shallow. He is lazy. Etc. But, there is virtually no chance of him quitting because of intellectual concerns. Look for more people of this type to be called as bishop, and fewer young people (less predictable - I was 30 when called) and few intellectual, think-for-yourself leaning people who might challenge authority. The Church will become more McMormon.

- More tolerance toward the publication of books like Bushman's that tell more of the real story but still find reasons for both belief and obedience. This allows them to say "Look, the information is out there is you want to find it".

- But, no change in the intolerance to things like Bushman's book coming up at church. Hence, more emphasis on the "stick to the lesson manual" (no sources outside the manual itself and the scripture; no interpretative aids to the scripture - this baffled me while I was still active but now I understand perfectly what was afoot) approach both to teaching lessons and speaking in church (where the lesson manual will be the scriptures only). This practically speaking prevents the vast majority of Mormons from finding out about their history.

- More use of the "gag order" approach they used on me. That is, believe what you want but don't talk about it. That way the continued participating of intellectuals in Mormon meetings will be tacit approval of what it taught there, deceiving more young people (as I was) when they see really smart people coming to church, holding callings, etc. and never emitting a squeak of concern.

Overall, the best model to predict the behaviour of Mormon leaders I have found is power dynamics. They will not do anything, until forced, that will reduce their power. And they will do anything that they think they can get away with long term to maintain or increase their power. The internet is forcing them to accept things like Bushman's approach to JS's history, but they will draw the line there.

All this means that the Church's growth will slow and the membership in North America will likely decline as it already has in Western Europe. They will call this a "winnowing", a "flight to quality", a "sign of the times", etc. The leadership's emphasis will be more and more on the miracle of growth overseas where the world is not wired yet and hence the pickings are easy. But there will be increasing pressure to make those places carry themselves financially. And in North America the emphasis will be on keeping what they have. Thus, bishops who obey and aren't likely to question, but who may be much less adept at delivering the administrative and spiritual goods bishops are traditionally expected to deliver will be part of the program.


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Of Emotional Battleships, Intellectual Row Boats, Pokemon, Southpark, And Misdirection
Wednesday, Dec 7, 2005, at 09:32 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I will further disclose the low brow nature of my intellect by admitting to occasionally watching Southpark with my kids. This started a few years ago when I learned that Trey Parker, one of the two creative guys behind the show, is a Mormon refugee and hence some of his humour is laced with stuff few but post-Mormons would pick up. And to my wife's initial horror, I made the case for allowing our kids to watch the show as well. Potty mouthed and crude as it is, the show comes at issues in ways that my kids understand and we have some our best laughs together while watching it, and best discussions about moral and social issues after watching it.

Last night my sons (15 and 11 years old) persuaded me to watch part of a South Park Christmas Special with them. There was a sketch about how Pokemon was being used by the evil Japanese to brainwash the children of American and turn them against the American establishment that had me crying I was laughing so hard. I literally fell over sideways on the couch and could not move for a few seconds at one point.

The Japanese manipulators of American culture successfully defused each and every confrontation with American authority figures who had hard evidence of the brainwashing that was underway by quickly first pleading ignorance, second promising to fix their mistakes, and third noting that the poor Japanese with their tiny penises could do nothing when compared to the Americans with their huge (and dinosaurian, and mastodonian, and other highly entertaining adjectives) penises. The Japanese ran over the first two points and then hammered the third one home over and over again. This reduced the American authority figures (including Clinton) to vacant eyed smiling acceptance of the Japanese and their brainwashing ways on the basis of the obvious Japanese honesty and good sense in recognizing American penile superiority.

I almost died laughing.

After the movie my sons and I talked about the nature of the point of this lovely caricature (the use of disingenious flattery to manipulate emotion and action through advertising and many other aspects of society including religion - "Agree with us and you are by definition one of God's elect; oh, and now start paying tithing, etc."), and what creates humour in general (the connection of two usually unconnected concepts in a plausible fashion - a gay Satan; little kids who use sophisticated profanity; a piece of pooh (Mr. Hanky) with his own Christmas Special; the use of genital flattery for manipulative purposes in an overt instead of implicit fashion; etc.).

Great night.

Southpark nicely illustrated the principle of cultural manipulation. Find out what the people want, and then use fear and desire to manipulate them. These are your emotional battleships. As Southpark accurately reflected life, intellectual rowboats get blown away in most encounters with the much stronger emotional weaponry.

And over time, emotion can be used far more effectively than even this (also illustrated in this Southpark episode). You can get people to think that they want something, and persuade them that you have the power to help them get it. This is the principle on which advertising and salesmanship is based (relative to religion as well as all other things), as well as magic. In magic it is called "misdirection". See for examples.

As the legendary magician Jean Hugard said,

"The principle of misdirection plays such an important role in magic that one might say that Magic is misdirection and misdirection is Magic".

That is, magic is performed by the magician using tendencies in human perception to make us look at his left hand while his right hand (or foot, or assistant, etc.) does something that we do not notice and gives the impression that magic has occurred.

Misdirection in magic is based on based weaknesses in the human ability to perceive that psychologists and neuroscientists now study. My favourite object lesson in this regard can be found on the Internet (see, if you have a java enabled computer). It is a video clip of people passing a couple of basketballs between them. Five (I think) people are dressed in relatively light coloured clothes, are walking in a complicated pattern and are passing two light coloured balls between them.

If you can access this video, you may as well perform the experiment on yourself. So before reading further, watch the video and count the number of times the balls moves from one person to another. This is not easy to do because of the way they move in front of each other while passing the balls around.

After this short video ends (maybe 30 seconds) you are asked if you noticed anything "odd". I didn't. "You didn't see the gorilla?" you are asked. "Nope" was my response. So you replay the video.

While the people are walking through their pattern and passing the ball, a man dressed in a black gorilla suit walks into the middle of the group, turns toward the camera, beats his chest and makes a face, and then walks out of the frame. It is that obvious. And I did not see it because I was focused on who was passing the ball to whom, and the gorilla was dressed like the background (dark) instead of the figures (light). But once you knew that something "odd" had happened and paid close attention, this was as obvious as the computer sitting right now on the desk in front of me. It was "magical" when the gorilla appeared out of thin air.

Such is the power of misdirection. This applies to religion, politics, economics, social relationships of all kinds, etc. It is one of those fundamentally important things to grasp if one wishes to understand as much as possible of human behaviour, both individual and social.

To show how deep this runs, consider the unsettling story of how progress sets traps that destroy entire civilizations is really about the human tendency to focus on social fine points (like how quickly our economy is growing) while missing critical big picture imperatives (like global warming). Jared Diamond tells this story in "Collapse" (see and . For a shorter and much more accessible (if darker) version of the same events, see Robert Wright's "A Short History of Progress" (see

So, if we are sufficiently focused on the minutiae of living a religious life, an academic life, a businessperson's life etc., the big picture will not be questioned. Hence, many religions and other ideologies that wish to control behaviour are all about the details, routine and ritual of daily living, and result in such a busy day to day existence that there is little opportunity to think about where the train is headed.

This is not the result of the plan of some evil people sitting around in determining the fate of humanity. Rather, this is how human social organizations of all types to some extent function. They spontaneously organize to protect themselves, find the resources they need to flourish, etc. within the constraints imposed upon them. The reason that the rules of modern democracies (self imposed constraints that affect collective and individual behaviour) are so important is that they run against the hierarchical grain of human groups, and so force human organizations in an unnatural direction. This requires leaders to account to members; this restrains the natural direction of hierarchical power; this requires information about how and why leadership decisions are made to be disclosed to the members.

And as I noted in my earlier message, the time may have come for us to revisit some of the basic rules of our democratic system.

Our ancestors taught us that the clearest lesson from human history is that absent the constraints that democracy imposes on the power of those at the top of the social pyramid, power will be abused. We may need to extend their wisdom by building protections into our system that will counter the human tendency to think and act within a short term and small group frame of reference. This is in many ways the same tendency that causes humans to abuse power - short term thinking coupled with a very small group (me) is what causes me and all other human beings to tend toward the abuse of power. The current generation of human beings should likewise be counted up to abuse its collective power to take resources from future generations, and should be assumed not to be able to see that its actions are wrong. Therefore, just as democratic institutions were designed and implement to restrain one kind of power and the bad decision-making that tends to go with it, the time may have come to agree that we should imposeconstraints on ourselves that constrain the exercise of similar types of power.

And I don't have the slightest notion as to how it would be best to proceed in this regard.


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What Is The Meaning Of Life For Atheists (Or Non-Theists, Or Agnostics)?
Tuesday, Dec 13, 2005, at 07:22 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Tom Clark (see Center for Naturalism) is a thoughtful fellow from whose writings I have consistently drawn wisdom. What follows is an email he sent to a group in which we both participate, and my response. The issue is how one derives meaning from our life experience after having jettisoned the notion of a literal god.



[Tom wrote]

See for a story on religious naturalism featuring Ursula Goodenough (a respected biologist) and Michael Ruse (a respected philosopher of science and religion).The article closes with a quote from Ruse:

“Ruse, on the other hand, said that he sees nontheistic and atheistic systems as equally lacking in meaning. "I would want to say, you give it [belief in God] up, there is no meaning. Now I'm not saying you can't have joy and friendship or enjoyment of ideas or family or all of these things. I think you certainly can. But ultimately, it's meaningless," he said.”

I think it's a mistake to characterize ultimate reality - the whole of what is - as "meaningless," since that's to project our parochial expectation or desire for purpose onto something that's incapable of being construed in such a fashion. It's a descriptive injustice to characterize an unsupervised, wild cosmos as meaningless, as did Steven Weinberg when he said "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." Rather, the fact of existence is inscrutable, quite beyond the meaning/no meaning distinction. Purposes necessarily inhabit an overarching, non-purposive context, which necessarily escapes being construed as purposive. If god existed, she'd be in the same existential predicament we're in, which is to wonder what's the point of it all, and then see that such a question is necessarily unanswerable.

Tom Center for Naturalism

[bob wrote]


Thanks for that note. By the way, my wife and I were driving home from an out of town Christmas party this morning and used your Science and Theology News interview on religious atheism ( to launch a nice discussion about the line between science and religion. Your material is always useful and thought provoking.

While agreeing for the most part with what you and Michael C. said, my take on Ruse was somewhat different. I think he makes an important point (certain kinds of meaning are not justified within a naturalistic framework and must be let go of when one becomes a naturalist) while missing another (other kinds of meaning are naturalistically justified and should be expected to evolve as our understanding of nature improves). Let me flesh this out a bit.

First, I agree with Ruse that atheism and non-theism are the same. So what goes for one goes for the other.

Second, I think he had a valid point regarding the epistemic and ontological rules that govern science and those that take it seriously, and what they imply for meaning. This is what my wife and I were talking about on our trip home.

The big difference between people who take science seriously and those you have called "squishy minded", it seems to me, is in what they are prepared to accept as reliable knowledge and act upon as such. I note, by the way, that terms like "squishy minded" while accurate in a sense are also pejorative and hence unhelpful. I would prefer to speak of these people in terms of things like socially conditioned assumptions regarding reality and other concepts of that sort that in my view recognize the limited (if any) agency people of this type have when it comes to this aspect of their worldview. However, it is hard to find an accurate label for them that is efficient and not pejorative. I will use the term "scientific people" to refer to those who use science consistently to draw the line between reliable and unreliable forms of knowledge, and "unscientific people" to refer to those who do not use science consistently in that regard. Ironically, some people to whom I will refer as unscientific are in fact practising scientists of some repute, but due to our instinctive deference to our dominant social groups and the foundational premises we have inherited from it operate with a compartmentalized mind. That is, they have sources of epistemic certainty that cannot be justified scientifically, and they do not see a conflict between the scientific principles that govern one part of their lives and the unscientific that governs the balance.

Unscientific people accept as certain things that are manifestly uncertain; things that cannot be shown to be reliable; things that are non-scientific. In fact, the more uncertain some alleged phenomena seem to be (the nature of God, for example) the more emphatic some people are that they are certain. This is tied closely to questions of ultimate meaning, as noted below, as well as being a big part of the glue that holds social groups together.

Scientific people will admit that many things are possible (like some form of god) but are not certain and hence should not be relied upon in epistemic or ontological terms. Hence, for scientific people what lies outside what is "known" is by definition not known and hence unreliable. Therefore, we are therefore not justified in drawing certain conclusions about it.

Scientific people try hard to remain open to what might be out there beyond the known, and hence able to accept what science may in the future try to teach our hardening neural networks in that regard. They try to maintain the same attitude about what appears to be known based on the best available evidence from time to time.

You indicated that existence is inscrutable - beyond the meaning/no meaning dichotomy - and hence we should not speak in terms of meaning with regard to existence as a whole. While that is true, I think there is more to it. I will be interested to hear what you think about this.

Scientific people will tell us that the boundaries of our knowledge of the world in which we exist create a whole. This is not the whole of existence. Rather, it is the whole of what we reliably know about existence. The part of existence defined by our reliable knowledge is no doubt anchored it many other things that are real, by those are beyond our understanding at the moment and hence are like the darkness beyond a spotlight illuminating a play on stage. What we cannot see cannot reliably inform what we perceive to be happening on stage.

This is important to meaning because meaning is context dependant. That is, a flower does not have meaning or function in isolation. If our knowledge were restricted to a single flower, we might be able to find the functionality and hence infer some forms of meaning for its parts by examination of how they interact and relate to the whole, but the entire flower (being the universe for purposes of this example) simply is. However, once that flower is set within its context as we know it in this world, it acquires many attributes by reference to that context. It has certain functions. It "means" one thing to a bee, another to each of many other insects, another to the earth into which it decays, another to the animal that eats it, etc. And what does it mean to the multiplicity of humans who see and use it in various ways using our symbolic minds? Of course, as our understanding of both the figure (the flower) and its ground (the context) changes, our perception of things like function and meaning also change.

I am not equating function with meaning, but rather using function as an illustration of how the ground largely defines the figure.

Perhaps all Ruse is saying is that once you have accepted the naturalistic hypothesis and its epistemic and ontological implications, you have reduced the context around your empirical world to the point that it is like the flower-as-universe example above. Devoid of a context that has characteristics discernable with some degree of specificity and probability of being "real", all of empirical reality as we understand it is shorn of the kind of meaning that can be easily derived from God and all that goes with Him, including various stories as to why and how the Earth and humanity came into being. This is the context that humans wrap around empirical reality as they perceive it in order to create meaning.

As is well known in the world of art, you can vary the way the figure is perceived in many ways by changing the ground. Hence, by changing the assumptions related to God and other metaphysical aspects of existence that are presumed to surround empirical reality, the meaning of the empirical reality can be controlled.

Without this context for empirical reality, we can still find the function of various parts of reality as we know it and can justifiably infer various meanings for these parts relative to other aspects of the known whole. For example, in the evolutionary context my purpose and meaning may be to act so as to enhance the prospects for the long term survival and propagation of my genes and all other genomes related to them. It is not hard to connect that to Maslow's hierarchy of needs for each human being of the current and future generations, not to mention other forms of life. I derive this from my empirical context, as I am justified in believing it to be while operating within the naturalistic hypothesis. But without a context for the empirical whole that we can justify as real, there is no justifiable way to derive a function or meaning for that whole that then might inform the meaning I perceive for myself as part of that whole. As my understanding of empirical reality as a whole increases, my perception of the function, meaning and other attributes of various parts (including me) changes, in many cases becoming richer. I expect this perspective expansion to continue indefinitely, and so that justifiable perceptions of meaning will change indefinitely.

My meaning and purpose used to relate, for example, to doing what was required to pass the test to which God had put me in this life, and be able to return to live for eternity with Him and become a God like Him. The overarching purpose and the meaning with which this presumed context for empirical reality infused my life dictated an amazing amount of what I did from moment to moment. This meaning, however, was not justifiable and was based on what I now perceived to be an extremely improbable set of ontological and epistemic beliefs that were designed to remove time, energy and other resources from me and give them to other people who happened to lead the religious group that promulgated this story. It amazing how consistent that pattern is throughout history - the guys telling the metaphysical story are at the receiving end of the time, money etc. donated by those who believe the story.

So, does accepting the naturalistic hypothesis necessarily render all existence meaningless? No. However, under the rules of justified knowledge that naturalists use, we are not justified in concluding that there is any meaning for the whole. Ruse is perhaps merely pointing that out. And he separates meaning from living a joyful, fulfilled life.

I understood you to say that Ruse is posing, or responding to, the wrong question. He said "if you give up belief in god, there is no meaning". That is too strong. He might have better said, "within the naturalistic hypothesis, if you give up belief in a god and his attendant metaphysical ontology, you cannot justify any particular meaning for the whole of existence". I think that is what he meant, and I am OK with that. I think his words were an understandable slip that need a little dressing up.

However, one can move from what he said to another important point which is that just as beliefs in empirical reality can be justified to one degree or another within the naturalistic hypothesis, so can beliefs with regard to meanings.

As noted above, many meanings can be justified with regard to the parts vis-à-vis other parts or the whole. It is just meanings with regard to the whole that can't be justified. As what is embraced by naturalism becomes a better representation of realty, the materials from which our justified meanings can be forged will become richer. I have no idea where that will go, but as my discussions with Stan and others here have illustrated to my satisfaction, there is much more to empirically justifiable material to work with than I had dreamed a few years ago. If you go back 150 years, there was certainly much less. If we project forward 150 years, I can't imagine what will be on the table, and am far more excited than fearful about that.

I think it is important that we face the uncertainty of what is not known, and so I think Ruse's point is important. People do need to face the fact that the ontological assumptions that ground many of their meanings are not justifiable, and hence their conceptions of meaning are not justifiable. I have spoken to Ruse about this and believe that this is his view as well.

I suspect as well that he would agree with both the justification of meaning of the limited sort I just described, and the likelihood that the empirical playing field will expand in this regard as time passes, but I have not spoken to him about that.

In my view, it is a Faustian bargain to accept the manifestly uncertain as certain, thus creating unjustifiable ontological beliefs and hence unjustifiable meaning by the relationship between the empirically testable and whatever social dreams, oft thousands of years old, that are presumed real. I know you agree with this

If history is any guide, those who go down this road will manufacture the context that, relative to the empirically known, will justify the actions they (or at least some of those who are powerful in their group) feel are necessary. This will be yet another mirror in which we can look and feel pleased with ourselves. This closes the mind and misleads at the same time. And it is what I see in both old and new belief systems, such as many New Age quasi-religions.

And what about people like Ray Kurzweil (see He seems like a genius, and yet is foolish enough to have suggested that on the basis of 220 supplements per day he has found the fountain of youth, and some branch of complexity theory has allowed him to create a money machine that outsmarts the stock market (see

My point here is not to be critical of Kurzweil. I have not yet read his most recent book which a friend whose judgement I respect has recommended to me. However, I expect that we will see more people like Kurzweil who will attempt to provide meaning by wrapping the empirically known with the scientifically speculative. The recent and lamentable movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?" (see

It is my view that when confronted with meaning creating propositions such as those Kurzweil and others will increasingly float, we should be sensitive to the same things as we are regarding meaning created by theology. Some of those are:

· How justifiable are the "facts" posited in order to create this meaning?

· If they are not justifiable, why am I inclined toward accepted this set of unjustified assumptions but not others? The answer to this question usually relates to blind spots created by social conditioning, and hence the question is best put to people who are not affected by the same social conditioning as we are.

· How does the interface between is justifiably known and what is speculative create meaning in this case? That is, the empirically known is hard to change. However, the speculative context can be made up by anyone creative enough to do so. Hence, an examination of how the speculative wrap interfaces with the empirically known is often illuminating.

· Who are the beneficiaries of the meaning so posited? And who is pushing the story that creates the meaning in question? If those who benefit are also those who are pushing this particular form of meaning, alarm bells should go off.

· To what extent does this meaning tell me and others like me what I want to hear, and so manipulate me?

Out of time this morning.


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But Good Things Often Come From Bad, And So People Are Justified To Choose To Remain Mormon Even After They Understand Its Real History
Friday, Dec 16, 2005, at 08:57 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
But good things often come from bad, and so people are justified to choose to remain Mormon even after they understand its real history. And, people are often worse off outside of Mormonism than in, and so I would not want to disturb those who wish to stay in.

So I was recently told. My lightly edited response was as follows.



You and I also seem to have a different view of the options outside of Mormonism. You are perhaps unaware that the suicide and depression rates (as measured by anti-depressant consumption) in Utah are the highest in North America. Mormons say that this is only true outside of the "faithful" Mormon community. I doubt that. I know a lot of Mormon women in particular who take anti-depressants, but it is not socially acceptable within Mormonism (even less so than in other groups) to admit that you are depressed. And the suicide stats are really interesting.

If we believe that the active Mormons do not have a high suicide rate (this is what Mormon researchers tell us) then what it is about being an inactive Mormon or non-Mormon in Utah that raises the suicide rate for that group into the stratosphere? And why does Utah lead the US in personal bankruptcies, reported spousal abuse, some kinds of reported sexual abuse, etc.?

If you take similar demographic groups (Mormon and not) in terms of income levels, educational levels, community attributes, etc. (like Mormons and non-Mormons in the suburbs of Calgary or Denver) you will not find that the non-Mormons are out doing drugs and raping people while the Mormons are at home baking cookies and reciting poetry to each other. Rather, you will find similar social behaviours, with the non-Mormons tending to have more time for community affairs, spending more time doing things as a family (instead of attending Mormon functions together, but apart), not using anti-depressants as much, being more racially tolerant (by behaviour, not word), encouraging their daughters to become more and better educated, encouraging their children to marry later and have fewer children, etc.

For more detail in this regard, see at page 19.

To understand Mormonism (as is the case with every social group) you should listen to what they tell you about themselves. Rather, you should collect the most objective data possible about their behaviours.

I don't think that a case can be reasonably made for Mormonism enhancing lifestyle in the ways most of us would appreciate. And when you cut through the marketing BS (Mormonism has become very adept at persuading both its members and others that it is "family first", produces happy people, etc.), I think a solid case can be made that Mormonism impedes the creation of the kind of life most people value.

The easiest way to think about this issue is as follows: Mormonism requires a lot of time and money. If it is "true", that makes sense because your time and money are buying goods to be delivered after death. If Mormonism is not "true", it is no more than any other social club or church, and so I should examine each of the potential uses for my time and money on the basis of only what I can expect in return for them during this life. This is the critical point - take away the "after life" benefits Mormonism promises, and the sterility of what it offers her and now comes into disillusioning focus.

When I go through the exercise I just noted with Mormonism (think of those endless, boring, uneducational meetings; those assigned friendships; the endless time spent planning meetings to get other people to attend more meetings to get other people to attend more meetings; etc.) and other potential uses of my time and money, this is an easy decision. There are many other uses to which I can put my time and money that are more likely to bring what I value into being than what Mormonism offers.

I wish you the best on this adventure.
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Mormon Marriage and Disrespect
Wednesday, Dec 21, 2005, at 09:59 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
What follows is an expansion of one section of the essay at I would be interested in some feedback since I am never sure whether my perceptions are on track or influenced by our many mental processes that are designed for things other than to accurately perceive (see

In a nutshell, what I am wondering about is the extent to which cultures like that around Mormonism tend to cause dysfunctional marriages to last longer than they in some cases should.

The most interesting research regarding marriage I have run across is John Gottman’s. On the basis of a mere 30 minutes of video footage of a couple talking about routine matters he has a 95% prediction rate for which couples will divorce within seven years. He does this on the basis of the ratio of positive to negative communication (including non-verbal communication) using sophisticated criteria he has developed over years of this research (see Using the first 15 minutes of this interview analysis, his batting average drops to 90%.

The key to Gottman’s formula is that positive to negative communication (as he defines both) must be better than 5:1 for a marriage to have a good long-term survival prospect. And most important of all is the degree to which what he calls “contempt” is displayed. This is a hierarchical behavior – verbal or non-verbal communication that shows that one spouse considers him or herself to be above the other. “Disrespect” is perhaps closer to what most of us would use to describe this kind of communication. Accordingly to Gottman, marriages can successfully deal with much more anger, deception and other obviously toxic behavior that a little polite indication of “who’s who”, including things that are so subtle that few of us would catch them, and Gottman and his staff has to slow down the video and look for momentary flashes of emotion across the face that indicate what is “really” going on in the head (usually at the subconscious level), before the conscious mind suppresses it and gets on with the business of trying to get along. If much contempt, as Gottman defines it, is detectible on this subtle basis, the marriage probably has a short life expectancy. This is particularly interesting because the couples in question generally have no idea that they are in trouble. The signs Gottman detects are something like going up in a helicopter above a couple in a canoe floating down a river to a height where you can see the rapids or waterfall around the next bend. Regardless of how the couple in the canoe think they are doing, you can see things that indicate serious trouble ahead.

This line of research persuasively questions basic notions about what causes marital dysfunction and how hard it is to predict and in some cases correct, either within a marriage or by choosing a new life partner. And in particular, it points out that the problems people will tell us broke up their marriage are often red herrings. Gottman lucidly explains that we have problems, and more importantly solutions, of which we are unaware.

It seems to me that within Mormon marriage there is a greater power imbalance than in most marriages between similar non-Mormon couples in terms of age, socio-economic status, etc. That is, the man has more power in Mormon marriage than non-Mormon marriage. This, it seems to me, likely makes both Mormon men and women tolerate higher levels of disrespect in their marriages than would be the case of non-Mormon marriages. For those of you familiar with couples from cultures even more conservative or traditional than the Mormon culture, think of how those marriages work. I am thinking of Hindu women who walk behind their husbands while in public with their faces covered; of Hutterite women who are almost completely deferential to male authority; of FLDS women to whom their polygamous husband are a kind of quasi-deity and whose daughters are taught to sing hymns like “My Daddy is the Best Man in the World!”. It seems to me that in such cultures, the tendency to tolerate disrespect within the relationship would beeven higher than in the LDS culture.

In any event, it is my observation of Mormon marriage that in general there is a greater incidence of the kind of subtle disrespect that is a marriage killer according to Gottman, but the divorce rate is slightly lower than the national average. I would suggest that this can be explained by lower expectations on the part Mormon couples, which is the other side of the “tolerance of disrespect” coin.

What do you think about this? And you can see the essay referenced above for a more detailed comparison of LDS marriages to both traditional and modern/secular marriage.


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The Power Of Religious (And Other) Convictions
Wednesday, Dec 28, 2005, at 07:23 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Most importantly, Mormonism and Scientology both foster community based on literal, metaphysical beliefs that amplify humankind's tribalistic instincts. "Believe what we tell you, and this will prove that you are one of God's elect and in line for incredible blessings!" Without those metaphysical beliefs to attract adherents, both of those faiths would likely die.

I had the chance to demonstrate the power of this kind of belief while out for dinner a few nights ago with some of the young lawyers at our firm (articling students, in fact) who invited some of us old farts to join them. Since I have not recorded this yet, I will use this email as an opportunity to do so.

After a few drinks, one of the other senior lawyers with us who was seated at the other end of the table indicated in answer to a question I did not hear that he had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church after choosing to marry a non-Catholic in a protestant church. This happened in Quebec, where Catholicism was at that time (about 30 years ago) still the primary organizing force in some small communities. This led to an energetic discussion of the merits and demerits of religion. In my demur way, I was staying out of it. My wife has told me that she tires of having Mormonism dragged into most of our social encounters, and I am trying to learn from her advice. But within a few minutes someone put a question straight to me about how my experience with Mormonism compared to my friend's with Catholicism, and away we went. A short time later, one of the female articling students said to me something like this,

"This makes no sense whatsoever. I have seen these Mormon missionaries going around and some of my friends have talked to them, and I have never heard such a ridiculous story - angels, golden books, god appearing to people - it is ridiculous. I don't understand how anyone could fall for something like that." In our conversation up that point this girl (in her late 20s I would guess) had demonstrated a lot of personality and self-confidence. She was clearly the type who has no hesitation to swim against the tide when that makes sense to her.

I replied by asking her if she really wanted to understand what this kind of thing was about. She said yes. We were sitting across a corner of the table from each other with one person between us. I leaned over the table and extended my hands to her. She looked at me like I was off my nut. "Give me your hands", I gently said. She reached out toward me, still looking at me a little sideways, and I took her hands in mine while looking directly into her eyes. Our table of eight people in the middle of a noisy restaurant became quiet.

"Angela [not her real name]", I said, "are you close to your parents?"


"How about your husband?"

"Of course."

"I feel moved to tell you that I know that you can live with them forever. After death, I know that you can be with your parents, your brothers and sisters, your husband, forever. Would you want to do that?"

She rolled her eyes and smiled confidently, "This is crazy!"

"OK", I said, "It is crazy. But stay with me. I want you to imagine that both of your parents died during the last few months. How are you feeling?"

After a few moments of silence, "I am devastated".

I continued and squeezed her hands gently, "I am a Mormon missionary and I just knocked on your door, and because I look so sincere and you are feeling like you need someone to talk to, you let me in. You tell me your story - about your family, how much you loved your parents and all that and then (I squeeze her hands a little more), I look you straight in the eye and with tears running down my cheeks I tell you that I know for a certainty that your father and mother still live; that they are watching down on you; that they inspired me to come to your door; that I have a message they want you to hear so that you can take some steps in your life that allow you and them to be rejoined after death ..."

She interrupted me, "This is creeping me out". Her confident smile was gone, but she did not take her hands from mine.

"Or imagine", I said, "that you just had a baby (she had said earlier that evening that she planned never to have children) and the same thing happens. I knock on your door; you are feeling emotional because of your new baby and the way she has changed everything about your life, and I tell you that God has sent me to you because of your new baby, and that God has inspired me to tell you how you can be with that wonderful baby after death ..."

"OK I get it!", she said as she pulled her hands from mine. "This is too weird! I could feel something from you that I have never felt before ..."

Angela went on for some time about the bizarre nature of what she had felt as I look into her eyes, touched her hands and spoke to her with absolute certainty about things that are among the most uncertain, and terrifying, known to man. I explained that all I was doing was replicating the kind of thing I did innumerable times as a Mormon missionary and then lay priesthood leader. The expression of sincerely believed certainty is a powerful thing. Andy Newberg explains why we should expect this kind of reaction from a neurological point of view when such certainty is combined with existential crisis (see at page 78). And when you add this kind of personal power to even clumsy communal ritual and experience, it is supercharged. Nothing that people do in this mind of context surprises me. Jonestown, Heaven's Gate, Waco, Moonies, Hari Krishna, Mormonism, etc. These are the most powerful social forces know to humanity; the emotional battleships I have mentioned in other posts. And groups like Mormonism use them to near perfection.

Mormonism will be interesting to watch during the next several decades because some of its foundational beliefs are sufficiently susceptible to scientific investigation that they will be shorn of any credibility they had, at least outside of Mormonism, forcing Mormonism to either become like the Young Earth Creationists or Old Order Amish (islands of irrationality in a sea of reason) or to retool their foundational beliefs. Mormonism has re-tooled before (after polygamy was taken from it in the late 1800s) and so my bet is that it will go that route again. I think it probable that Mormonism will end up resembling most standard Evangelical sects within 50 to 100 years, which is a nanosecond in the time frames over which religions develop. Hence, I suggest that Mormonism is right now at a tipping point as a result of the confluence of certain sketchy Mormon foundational beliefs, science (genetic science is at the forefront at the moment - see Simon Southerton "Losing a Lost Tribe" and the Internet.

In my view, the primary lesson for Religious Naturalism (see in Mormonism and Scientology is the importance of the belief that something is "true" in creating an enduring mythology, and how that must be linked to both ritual and communal experience to take on a life of its own. As Karen Armstrong notes (see "A Short History of Myth"), mythologies are lived more than they are believed. The energy Angela felt from me would be translated quickly by Mormonism into a connection to a community of supportive, loving people who would teach her the "right" way to live and infuse her life with ritual practice that would occupy a large part of each of her days from then until she refused to allow it to do so any more. The connection to a community and way of life that made her feels secure would soon supersede the importance of her beliefs. This is an example of a particularly interesting kind of feedback loop as described by emergence and complexity theory (see, within a particular kind of human culture. The willingness to believe creates a transcendent experience, which connects one to a group, which causes one to adopt daily habits that are consistent with/mandated by belief, which causes habits of behavior and interdependence on the group, which both support the beliefs and render them unnecessary this causing change to occur in both the group and individual behavior, etc. all of which is set in an environment that brings pressure to bear on both the individual and the group that causes this complex system to continue to evolve at the macro level as well as at its nexus with a particular individual. This is the model that I think in the mid to long term has the best chance of explaining how human groups (religious or otherwise) function, and how the behavior of particular individuals relative to their group are likely to work.

Science is currently our best bet when it comes to finding out what is real. However, as discussions as recent as ours concerning Brian Swimme (see lecture at indicate, the territory that a mythology needs to cover in order to be effective is arguably much larger than what science covers. One of science's primary virtues is that it is set up to discredit those who overreach. Hence, people like Swimme will have to be clear that they are not speaking as scientists if they wish to retain their credibility as scientists, and that credibility is critical to their enterprise.

As indicated above, groups like Mormonism and Scientology use our tribal instincts against us. One of the things that attracts me to Religious Naturalism is that it uses this tribal instinct in our favour. The ecological approach, for example, shows us how we humans on this planet are all part of one system; that for practical as well as ethical reasons we can't afford to ignore that is going on in Africa, for example; that while we might feel more connected to some small group that this is an illusion as much as watching an enjoyable movie is; etc. Religious Naturalism leads to ecologically sensitivity, and this is the only idea I have found so far that passes the test of "truth" while packing the emotional punch that I think is necessary to found a mythology powerful enough to capture the minds as well as hearts of a large percentage of people on the planet. This is based in science. It is important. And while working at the fringes of science, it does not have to go as far as people like Swimme take it to be compelling. An explicitly non-scientific mythology that is consistent with science, with its attendant rituals of a group and individual nature, could be constructed to help us experience the transcendence that most humans crave and wrapped around science. I think this is where people like Swimme are headed, and as long as the transition from the science to the non-science is made clear enough, I don't have a problem with this.

And various modes of communal association, over the Internet and in person, could be devised to enable the feeling of connectedness and "tribe" that most people also seem to need. The program could be set up so as to be adaptable to already existing religious groups who are somewhat adrift at the moment. And there may well be some people who wish to start from scratch.

At the core, however, of all of this is an idea powerful enough that one person can literally or metaphorically take the hands of anther in hers, and say "I know what we should do ..." about something that terrifies us.

Which reminds me of something. I can't believe that I almost forgot the best part of the Angela story.

Did I mention that she is quite an attractive young woman? After we finished at the restaurant (it closed at 11 pm) a group of six moved next door to keep chatting. Not long after we were settled at our table a well dressed businessman in his late 30s or early 40s approached our table. Angela was sitting with her back to the wall, and so he had to lean over the table to address her.

"I never do this", he said, "but I have to tell you that I have just experienced love at first sight. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I love you."

Angela looked around the table at our stunned faces, and then held up her left hand to display a wedding ring. "I'm taken" she said. And one of her female lawyer colleagues wrapped her arms around Angela and said, "And I'm the backup".

It took a few minutes of additional conversation to get Romeo to abandon his quest, and I have no doubt that he continued his cruise of the bar using what I suspect is a pick up line that will bring him a conquest before the evening ended. Those who seem certain of themselves have an intoxicating effect on a reasonable percentage of their peers. We had a good laugh regarding the parallels between my little experiment in the restaurant and the "man on the prowl" in the bar. And we see the same thing as we attend sales presentations for financial products, real estate, various forms of technology, etc.

The projection of certainty as a tool of persuasion (conscious or unconscious) is a human universal.
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Two Justifications For Mormon Belief
Friday, Dec 30, 2005, at 08:18 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I developed these positions while my Mormon testimony was in its death throes. During this period, I went back and forth between people at BYU and other apologist organizations on the one hand, and skeptical Mormons or apostates on the other. I was recently reminded of this by receiving a few emails from a Mormon who seems to be at a stage of the process similar to mine when I first thought through what follows.

Before I start this I should state the conclusion I eventually reached. That is, Mormonism is on balance severely toxic. It of course contains some good, but on balance, it contains much more bad for most people. Those who can are well advised to simply leave and construct their lives on the most rational foundations they can find, surrounded by people who hold similarly high moral and rational values, and there are plenty of such wonderful folk waiting for us to join them. However, there are exceptions to every rule and since I do not understand (nor can I understand) any individual’s circumstances fully, I do not feel competent to suggest what anyone else should do.

In any event, after becoming aware of all of the relevant facts, it is my observation that the following two positions are best able to justify continuing Mormon belief. That is not to say that they are reasonable justifications, but they are the best available.

First, Mormon belief can be said to depend upon a form of knowledge that cannot be justified by rational means. Having dispensed with reason entirely, we have no need to continue to argue about history, science or anything else based on reasons. And we can even find academic support for this kind of approach in the post modern tradition. See at page 15 for an overview of the post modern connection to Mormonism.

But if this approach is taken, then Mormonism loses reason as a sword as well as a shield. This is essentially a relativistic position that says that truth is in the eye of the beholder, and so if one sees truth in Mormonism it is there for she who sees it, and this cannot be questioned or defended on rational grounds. It just is. Mormon missionary work in this context can be defended by indicating that until other people have had the chance to look at Mormonism, they will not know if truth is found in Mormonism for them. Hence, they should be given the chance to look.

Most Mormons will find this to be an odd way to look at things, since the same approach can be used to justify any religion as well as Mormonism. From a Mormon leadership point of view, this approach is likely to be preferred since it justifies whatever authority Mormon members can be persuaded to allow Mormon leaders to exercise. And the existence of this approach need only be discussed with those few Mormons who begin to seriously question the details of Mormon history or the justification for the exercise of Mormon authority. If information is managed appropriately, this will be a small percentage of the Mormon population.

This, in fact, is how I perceive Mormonism today to be managed.

Second, a rational defence of at least part of Mormonism can be constructed by discarding the elements of Mormonism that fail rational tests and keeping the rest. Since this is likely to reduce the authority of the current Mormon leadership group, it is not likely to be promoted by them. However, some Mormons who find the irrational/postmodern approach inadequate are adopting a rational approach along the lines I am about to describe. Indeed, this was the line I used to try and justify Mormonism before leaving it. My thinking in this regard is as follows:

1. We should acknowledge that science is our most reliable means of determining what is “real”. So, we should give science its due where it is justifiably reliable, and this means forcing religion and other non-scientific beliefs to cede ground where required by reliable science to do so.

(a) We should trust the scientific process in this regard, which means relying upon the judgement of those people who are best informed regarding the phenomena in question, and discounting the views of those who are likely to be biased. Importantly, this means using the same kind of probabilistic reasoning that we use to make most of our decisions. That is, we do not require absolute proof of what is real before we make important decisions because absolute proof is not available with regard to anything in the real world. The best we can hope for is evidence that justifies a belief in a particular state of reality on the basis that it appears to be the belief most likely to be correct.

(b) We should recognize the powerful nature of the biases that affect the judgement of all human beings, and use the mechanisms science has developed to screen these biases and other kinds of misperception out of the process of determining what is real.

(c) Historical analysis is a quasi-science that is subject to many well understood kinds of uncertainty, and professional historians (often aided by scientists) are those best equipped to examine historical evidence and tell us how probable it is that different versions of past events have occurred.

(d) We should use the best available scientific and historical techniques and expertise to reach decisions as to what likely occurred in the past, since our conclusions in this regard often profoundly influence our current decisions as to how to live.

(e) We should recognize that we regularly make important decisions on the basis of the best available evidence, and our perception of probabilities based on that evidence, and we should conduct ourselves regarding religious matters in a fashion that is consistent with how we deal with other important aspects of life.

(f) In Mormonism’s case, this means that we should acknowledge that the historicity of the Book of Mormon is highly improbable and that Joseph Smith was deceptive on so many occasions that it is not reasonable to rely upon his words for an accurate recounting of literal events, especially when what happened is crucial to his maintenance of power. This means, among other important things, that Smith’s claims to have received God’s authority as he says he received it are highly improbable to be true.

(g) We would note that many other religious traditions have gone down this road. The Catholic Church and all of the Protestant traditions that depend on it, for example, have gradually given up important dogmas in the face of science’s advancing tide. This process has humbled those religions to an extent. Mormonism is young enough that it has not yet been humbled sufficiently to accept that many of its dogmatic foundations are so likely to be incorrect that it is not moral to continue to teach them as “truth”.

2. We should acknowledge that most of what we believe is not reliably justified by science.

(a) Science does not touch the big "why" questions, for example, and many of the beliefs in cause and effect mechanisms that govern our behaviour relate to sociology, religion, politics, economics, etc. which are either on the fringes of what science can reliably deal with, or outside it because of the complex nature of the phenomena in question. Beliefs that are outside of science are referred to as “metaphysical” beliefs – beliefs that are beyond “physics” which is what science used to be called.

(b) So, we should acknowledge that in the absence of reliable science, a wide variety of metaphysical beliefs are equally justifiably.

(c) However, many people hold metaphysical beliefs and accord them unjustified status in terms of reliability or "truth". Once we are outside science, or so far out into its fringes that its predictive capacity is close to that of dice tossing, we should acknowledge this and understand that it is not rationally justifiable to make decisions on the basis that one belief is preferable to another because it is more likely to be “true”.

(d) This means that rational Mormons will abandon their claim that Mormonism has more “truth” than other religious belief systems or philosophies. However, they may rationally advance the claim that for particular people at particular times in particular places, Mormonism may be the best system, or a reasonable system, to use if one wishes to achieve particular social or personal outcomes.

(e) This also means that many of the values and other metaphysical beliefs that are part of Mormonism may well be justifiable. These include the Mormon emphasis on honesty (which is ironic in light of the fact that deception is one of Mormonism’s core leadership values), family and community relationships, patriotism, education, science (except to the extent if conflicts with Mormon belief, but that is dealt with above) and a variety of others.

3. We are making progress on a wide variety of fronts in terms of being able to use social science to predict which outcomes that will result from particular human groups adopting particular moral rules.

(a) We should use social science to the extent possible to predict outcomes that are likely to come from adopting and living by particular metaphysical beliefs. This involves complexity theory, emergence theory, the increasing capacity of computer modeling, etc. Just as we have increasing ability to predict when tropical storms will occur, our ability to predict human social outcomes is increasing. This tools can be used to justify, or not, various Mormon metaphysical beliefs in light of given objectives in terms of social outcomes.

(b) This analytical project will include a consideration of how metaphysical beliefs affect our ability to understand and use science. See the in this regard.

(c) We should consider in this regard questions like how belief in a metaphysical system like Mormonism's plan of salvation is likely to affect attitudes toward things like birth and population control. This is a good example because our ability to control the planet's population over the next several generations may determine humanity’s long term survival. If we accept the metaphysical premise that there is a certain number of "spirits" waiting to come to Earth and that God is in control of the process, then the use of abortion and other forms of birth control may be dismissed out of hand. This metaphysical belief hence strongly influences how technological power will be used, and biases the perception of data of many kinds related to these issues.

(d) We should consider how our beliefs regarding epistemology (how we can justify knowledge) affect our ability to perceive and use scientific theory and data. For example, a Mormon who believes that God communicates the most important truths about reality through emotional forces will likely be rendered in capable of perceiving scientific knowledge that contradicts the truths that are received through more reliable means. This is how I explain people like Scott Woodward (former a respected microbiologist at BYU) who in the BofM DNA debate has acknowledged that the extant DNA evidence indicates that the BofM unlikely to be what it says it is, but since this has not been proven with 100% certainty he still feels justified in holding his Mormon belief that the BofM is what is says it is (see

(e) In short, there is a complex set of feedback loops (see in the complex system that contains both our metaphysical and scientific beliefs. So, in my view it is not reasonable to suggest that we can all simply accept science and then go our own way regarding our "spiritual" (metaphysical) beliefs. There is a sub-set of possible metaphysical beliefs that are more consistent with science than the rest, and less likely to interfere with our processing and use of scientific information.

(f) As the tools that can be used to predict social outcomes become more refined, we will become better able to decide which aspects of Mormonism are likely to work for particular individuals who have particular goals, and which will not. This will justify some Mormon metaphysical beliefs, and cause others to be discarded. And Mormonism will continue to be dynamic, thus creating more metaphysical beliefs to be tested.

(g) We should recognize that some Mormon congregations and communities are much more amenable than others this the kind of approach to Mormon belief I am here outlining. Some people may feel so strongly about their connection to Mormonism that they will move to a Mormon community that will enable this kind of belief and practise of Mormonism.

4. This approach basically amounts to cafeteria Mormonism. At present, this is hard to do and those who embrace Mormonism in this way are stigmatized as “less active” or “not fully committed” or “cultural Mormons”. However, bearing such stigma may be the lesser evil for some people.

In conclusion, I note that Mormon apologists do not tend to use either of these systems. They don’t like admitting to irrationalism, and so do not confess to option no. 1 above. However, they denial of science and history when it hurts their case amounts to this in many cases. And they do not like brutally pragmatic approach represented by option no. 2. So, they end up betwixt and between and we know what the good book says about that, don’t we – “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16).

I second that motion.


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Notes For A Podcast Interview: Religious Belief Impairs Our Ability To Perceive And Reason In Some Ways
Tuesday, Jan 3, 2006, at 07:51 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I was asked to participate in a podcast a little while ago. Here are some of the notes I prepated for it.



2) Religious Belief Impairs Our Ability to Perceive and Reason in Some Ways

a) The basic point that I am going to try to get across is that religious belief in certain circumstances has a predictable, powerful and distorting effect on our ability to perceive the evidence around us as to how the world works.

b) I limit my critique to literalist religious beliefs.

i) Most religions include a mixture of metaphorical and literal beliefs.

ii) Mormonism has some metaphorical beliefs, such as that the Biblical story of the earth’s creation in six days is not to be taken literally, but rather is a metaphor for six creative periods that must have lasted much longer than 24 yours each given what science tells us.

iii) Due to the findings of science, linguistic and textual analysis of the Bible and other ancient religious documents, for the last couple of hundred years at least there has been a trend within Christianity and other religions toward a more metaphoric understanding of religious texts and concepts. Some Christian sects regard the entirely of the Old and New Testaments are metaphoric. And pastors tend to be more metaphoric than regular members.

iv) However, most of Mormonism’s foundational beliefs are taken to be literally true. God really did create Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that really was in Missouri; God impregnated Mary in the usual fashion and hence Jesus is God’s literal son; God really did appear to Joseph Smith; Joseph really did translate the Book of Mormon from golden plates an angel really gave to him; the Book of Mormon stories really happened; etc.

v) It is the dogmatic approach to knowledge required by literalist religious belief that causes the problems I will try to point out during this podcast.

vi) To the extent a religious can be shorn of its dogma, it will become more functional and healthier for its adherents in my view.

vii) However, religious authority is usually largely based on dogma. Once authority has to be earned it is much more difficult to maintain. If history is any guide, those in control of religious institutions can counted on to give up their power and influence as slowly as possible, and this means giving up the literalist belief and dogma that sustains power as slowly as possible.

viii) Religious dogma regarding authority can be thought of in business terms as a barrier to entry; something like a monopoly power that keeps other competitors out of a market. And it has the same effect as monopoly power: It creates costly, poor service oriented organizations that are designed more to benefit those who run them those whom the organizations are supposed to serve.

c) Literalist religious beliefs in an age of dominated by science and religious belief are a fascinating study in consistent, predictable contradiction.

i) For example, most modern religions, including literalist religions like Mormonism, accept reason as our best guide to reality except where it conflicts with “revealed truth” in a way that would threaten the credibility and hence authority of the religions institution in question.

ii) The authority and credibility if religious institutions and their leaders is critically important because religious believers place enormous confidence and trust in the ability of their religious institution and its leaders to tell them what is “right” or “true” and hence “what to do” regarding a wide variety of contentious, difficult to answer questions. For example,

(1) What are the proper roles of man and women in the home, community, government, etc.?

(2) Is birth control or abortion justifiable, and in which circumstances?

(3) In what circumstances is sexual intercourse permitted (and hence implicitly how young should people marry and start having children)?

(4) Is homosexuality justified?

(5) How should different races relate to each other and is interracial marriage OK?

(6) When is war justifiable?

(7) To what extent is it justified for humans to play god by cloning, genetic engineering, combining technology with human and other biology, etc.?

(8) Etc.

iii) By answering questions of this kind religions have both simplified social interactions (which is useful in some ways) and created social fiefdoms under the control of different religious and/or political leaders. This supercharges the natural and increasingly dangerous human tribal propensity.

iv) The history of each literalist religion and hence the “truths” that they have emphasized while answering questions such as those above constrains their ability to accept the knowledge that science has to offer and creates a predictable pattern of irrationality.

d) Assume for example:

i) You are at a party. One of your friends has had five beers during two hours because he is upset about breaking up with his girlfriend. And he is not headed to his car to drive home after loudly proclaiming, “I am noooo drun” and “I aaam juus fiiiiine ta driv hom!!!”. You don’t doubt his sincerity or the certainty of his belief. Do you feel justified to take his keys away, forcefully if necessary, and prevent him from driving his car?

ii) Most people would feel justified to intervene. In fact, if it is your house and he is your invited guest, you probably have a legal obligation to take his keys away from him.

iii) The justification for both our feeling about the “right” thing to do and the law that in some cases compels us to act is objective data that clearly indicates that a certain amount of alcohol impairs human judgement. There is no reasonable basis on which to dispute that conclusion.

iv) So, once someone has had a more than a certain amount of alcohol, we do not take what they say seriously. We may love them, trust them in most circumstances, etc. but in this particular circumstance, we don’t trust them because we understand that they are “under the influence” of something that overpowers their reasoning ability.

e) During this podcast, I will attempt to demonstrate that certain types of religious belief overpower the human ability to reason in a fashion similar to alcohol.

i) That is not to say that religion somehow makes people drunk or that the impairing capacity of religion is as extensive as it is regarding alcohol.

ii) But rather, that just as there is a correlation between drinking alcohol and impaired reasoning, there is a correlation between certain types of religions belief and certain kinds of impaired reasoning and that this pattern is so predictable that it is reasonable to infer that religion causes this particular form of impairment to our rational faculties.

iii) I am not suggesting that the impairment mechanism is the same and in fact I am sure it is quite different.

iv) All I suggest is a similar correlation.

f) In basic terms, here is how I believe this works:

i) Reason and the scientific method produce the most reliable knowledge known to man.

ii) The primacy given to science by religion (except when it is too dangerous to do so as indicated above) is the result of the success science has had in developing technology and predicting many things.

(1) This is because science has had far greater demonstrable prophetic success, and success in performing what amount to miracles, then religion can possibly claim.

(2) Imagine our ancestors seeing television, flight to outer space, cell phones, current medicine, etc. These are miracles that have been produced by science. This demands that it be acknowledged as our most powerful means of coming to understand reality, combined with the unwillingness of religions to admit that they are wrong about ideas that are perceived to be linked to their authority.

iii) We define “reason” or “rationality” to mean that we will seek out, accept and use the information most likely to enable us to have the highest probability of achieving our conscious objectives. It is therefore irrational to ignore such evidence.

iv) The scientific method is the use of various evidence gathering and theory testing mechanisms to form and test hypotheses about how the natural world works.

v) The opinion of the majority of scientists with expertise in a given field of enquiry represents the information that is most likely to be accurate with regard to that area, and hence if we are rational we will adopt and use that information as soon as we reasonably can.

vi) All scientific analysis is done on the basis of what if more probable to be accurate. That is, the question is not “is this idea true or not?” but rather something like, “how probable is it that this idea is our best approximation at the moment of truth, and what degree of reliability can I expect if I use this idea to predict future events?”

vii) The most reliable of scientific knowledge produces the amazing technologies we use every day.

viii) Scientific knowledge becomes less reliable as the phenomena in question becomes more complex, with things like the prediction of weather patterns, whether global warming is due to human activities, how human culture will develop in the future and why it has developed as it has in the past being susceptible to scientific analysis but with far less precision and hence predictability than how cell phones can be counted on to work, for example.

ix) Take the impact of human beings on global warming as an example. This is a complex, contentious area of scientific enquiry. However, a strong majority view has now developed with regard to it (see below). It is irrational for those of us who are not experts to ignore this opinion. Many in North America still ignore this information, likely as a result of the sacrifices it calls upon us to make. Our ignorance may cost our descendants dearly. This kind of “denial” (see is a common and well understood feature of human perception. It applies to religious and other beliefs as well that would be painful and otherwise difficult to change in the same fashion it does to things like global warming.

x) There is a huge area outside of science. That is, science only addresses questions that are testable, and there are far more questions that are not testable given the means science has at her disposal at the moment than are testable.

(1) Does God exist?

(2) What is God like?

(3) Does Heaven exist? Hell?

(4) What caused the Big Bang?

(5) Do the parallel dimensions predicted by String Theory exist?

xi) None of these questions are amenable to scientific analysis.

xii) Science has been described as a small clearing in the midst of a vast forest, with the odd trail pushing out from the clearing into the forest’s darkness.

xiii) See Appendix A for a graphic representation of “Reliable Science”, “Less Reliable Science”, and “Non-Science”.

xiv) Literalist religious people in the Developed World tend to accept science, but also tend to believe that when science conflicts with their religious beliefs that science should give way.

g) This creates a predictable pattern as follows:

i) Smart, well-educated and literalist religious people will tend to have irrational beliefs wherever their religious beliefs contradict science.

ii) See Appendix B for a graphic representation of Evangelical Christian Young Earth Creationist beliefs relative to science. Note that they accept most of science while disagreeing with those scientific beliefs that contradict foundational religious beliefs. Virtually all other scientifically inclined people would call the YEC beliefs that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, dinosaur bones were placed in the Earth to test human faith in God, Adam and Eve were created with the rest of life and creation less than 10,000 years ago, etc. as irrational.

iii) This attitude regarding science is severely dysfunctional for the YEC community in many ways. It causes members of this community to retreat from mainstream culture in various ways, and do be much more suspicious of science in many ways that is healthy. This attitude thus produces ignorance of many kinds.

iv) See Appendix C for a similar graphic representation of Jehovah’s Witness beliefs. Their areas of disagreement with science are different from those of the YEC, and likewise predictable on the basis of their religious beliefs.

v) See Appendix D, E and F for similar graphic representations of alien abductionist beliefs, New Age beliefs and Mormon beliefs respectively. Again, the areas of disagreement with science are different from those of the others and predictable on the basis of their religious beliefs. Each of these is discussed in some detail below.

vi) We could produce similar charts for many other literalist religions.

h) As a result of the analysis we just performed, if I am speaking to a scientifically oriented, orthodox Mormon, I can predict with a high degree of probability each of the following:

i) He will accept that Biblical metaphor is acceptable in some cases at least because the Mormon temple ceremony describes the creation of the Earth as occurring over a long period of time thus indicating that Genesis need not be taken literally. Hence metaphor is OK regarding many of the Old Testament stories.

ii) So, while being prepared to take a metaphoric position regarding many Biblical teachings such as the six days of creation, the age of the earth, the existence of dinosaurs, etc. he will not do the same regarding the Tower of Babel, and hence will be in conflict with science regarding how languages developed.

(1) This is the result of the reference to the Tower of Babel as a real event in the Book of Mormon which Mormons have a much more difficult time dealing with as metaphor than they do the Bible.

(2) For linguists, the idea that human language diverged less then 6,000 years ago is as crazy as the idea that earth is less than 6,000 years old.

iii) Therefore, most well educated (from a Bible studies point of view) Mormons would accept that Noah’s Ark is likely metaphor or myth, same for the falling of Jericho’s walls and Jonah and the Whale.

iv) Same for Christ’s miracles, the Virgin birth, the literal resurrection, etc. Since they are referenced by the Book of Mormon they must be taken literally.

v) He will be ignorant of and/or dispute evolutionary theory on a basis that is consistent with the statements of Mormon leaders of the years instead of science. That is, evolution may have been used by God to create life but probably not to separate one species to another, and certainly not to create man from mere animals.

vi) He will think that the Garden of Eden literally existed and can be located in Missouri and hence he will be ignorant of and/or dispute various accepted aspects of how recent genetic, linguistic and other research has shown that homo sapiens originated in Africa and spread from there starting about 65,000 years ago after a far longer history of pre-homo sapiens life forms in other parts of the globe (provide weblinks? – recent article in the Economist is good; provide link to global dna project);

vii) He will be ignorant of and/or dispute various accepted aspects of how the Americas were populated and the origin of the Amerindians (Israelite) and in particular she will be ignorant of and/or dispute the validity of the DNA research that shows that it is extremely unlikely that Hebrews immigrated to the Americas;

viii) He will have an incredibly inflated idea of the importance of the US in current and future human affairs;

ix) He will have an usually deferential attitude toward certainty types of authority, and more resemble in behavior the conformity oriented Asians than the individualistically oriented North Americans (see Richard Nesbitt, “The Geography of Thought”).

x) He will relatively easily susceptible emotional manipulation, which explains in part at least Utah’s US leading incidence of multi-level marketing and financial fraud participation rate. This, Mormon family size and the payment of tithing is likely related to Utah’s US leading personal bankruptcy rate.

xi) He will have unusually rigid ideas with regard to the appropriate roles for men and women. This may well be responsible at least in part for Utah’s US leading rates of anti-depressant use, reported spousal abuse and certain types of sexual assault.

xii) He will regard homosexuality as a sin, perversion of human nature or “test” (like a bad temper or physical defect) of some kind that God has imposed on some humans that must be overcome.

xiii) He will regard any knowledge that contradicts Mormon dogma as dangerous, suspect, and to be avoided despite a clear pattern in Mormon history of many now regarded as sound scientific and social ideas being rejected, and then accepted.

(1) Consider, for example early Mormon attitudes toward geology, evolutionary theory, cosmology, race relations (until recently).

(2) And what about the way in which Mormon leaders fought to keep polygamy, lied for over a decade about their behaviour, and finally abandoned it in the early 1900s. Then having been forced to do so, they took Mormonism mainstream.

(3) What would Mormonism be like now had it retained polygamy? Talk about “prophetic leadership”.

(4) If God is responsible for Mormonism, to say that He works in mysterious ways is an understatement, and He has an exquisite sense of irony.

i) The pattern that this analysis develops is clear – literalist religious belief causes the adoption of irrational scientific views where the two are in conflict. This often results in the adoption of irrational, dysfunctional opinions and behaviors.

i) Furthermore, as our chart notes the further from the center of science we get the more complex phenomena become and the less predictable or reliable knowledge related to that phenomena.

ii) And yet people who hold literalist religious views hold their most certain opinions regarding phenomena that are outside the purview of science, and hence are among the most uncertain of all we experience.

iii) As noted above, these include questions like “Does God exist?”, “What is God like?”, “What will happen after death?” etc.

iv) We are irrational if we ignore the clear lessons of human history as to the folly of believing that we have certain knowledge as to how questions of this kind must be answered.

v) Dogmatic certainty with respect to the untestable is what creates the kind of ignorance and tribalism that has made a wasteland of Northern Ireland and Palestine, causes suicide bombings all over the Middle East and flew airplanes into the World Trade Center.

vi) Neither God nor religion is a problem, but people who purport to speak for God or think they knew with certainty what we must do to please God are a serious problem. Their behaviour is irrational.

vii) I agree with the bumper sticker that pleads “God, Save Us From Your Followers”.

j) This denial of probable reality and hence adoption of irrational belief as a result of religion has been carefully studied as part of a wide range of consistent human perceptive failures (see again, and relates largely to our historic dependence on social groups for survival and reproductive opportunities.

i) Our instincts to defer to group opinion and authority structures, even where to do so is irrational in the manner noted above, were developed during time when we were much more dependant on our dominant social groups than we now are and hence it was more important to keep our place in the social order than to be “right” about many kinds of things.

ii) These instincts change slowly.

k) In many circumstances we acknowledge that our reason is impaired by emotional and other forces and follow rules to protect ourselves.

i) Hence, medical doctors are advised not to treat family members because the emotional forces involved have been shown to impair judgment.

ii) For the same reason lawyers are advise not to act on their own behalf, and the insurance companies that protect law firms from negligence claims deny coverage where lawyers are representing companies in which they have large shareholdings because it has been shown that a disproportionate number of negligence claims come from cases of this type.

iii) Financial and legal advisors are routinely hired to assist us to make important financial decisions were fear and/greed may impair judgement.

iv) Our corporate business world, though far from exemplary in terms of reasoning and virtue, is set up to require independent members of boards, executive compensation and audit committees, etc. in recognition of the human inability to exercise power in a reasonable fashion.

v) Law firms often require “second opinions” where one partner must review the work of the person primarily in charge of a matter to ensure objectivity.

vi) Large accounting firms sometimes require the partner responsible for a matter to rotate each few years because of the problems that have arisen as a result of partners becoming to close to their clients and losing objectivity.

vii) We often seek marital or family counseling to deal with issues that are known to be so emotionally volatile that we cannot reasonably expect to deal with them on a rational basis.

viii) Our democratic institutions are perhaps the greatest social monument of all time to man’s inability to make rational decisions when in the possession of power, and hence under the sway of greed and/or fear.

ix) And if this is not our greatest moment to this aspect of bias and our need for help to be rational, then the scientific enterprise certainly is. It requires peer review before publication of a material nature. It requires the pooling of knowledge for public critique. It myriad ways it acknowledges that the wisest among us have blind spots that only others will be able help us see.

x) Fear, greed and other primal emotional forces have been shown in countless experiments to interfere with rational functioning, and we are advised to distance ourselves from whatever causes these forces to play on us before making important decisions.

xi) And yet in their wisdom religious leaders and those who follow them proclaim their certainty and disdain for the views of any who dare disagree with them. This is a breathtaking form of ignorance, and arrogance, once it is seen in the context of the human endeavor to know as it has played out over our recorded history.

l) These rules are designed to protect us against predictable failures in our ability to perceive, and so are similar to the “don’t drive after drinking regardless of capable you think you are” rule.

m) In similar fashion, it is advisable to follow similar rules to protect us against the proven inadequacy of our reasoning relative to our most important religious beliefs.

i) This means that we should not take seriously the views of religious people that contradict the best scientific information that is available. Religiously driven opinions of this type are demonstrably irrational.

ii) Most of us routinely do this with regard to the religious views of other people.

iii) It is much more difficult to follow the same rule regarding the religious view of our own group. However, not to do so is as demonstrably irrational as driving after drinking more than a very small amount of alcohol.

iv) The rational thing to do in this regard is to defer to science where it disagrees with our religious beliefs, and work toward gaining the perspective necessary to see the irrational parts of our religious culture for what they are.

v) And it is extremely unlikely that more than a small percentage of the population will do what I have just outlined because of the way in which religious beliefs are perceived by those who hold them to be foundational to life itself.

n) An important example of how Mormon perception fails is illustrated by the way Mormons and non-Mormons answer the question “Should Joseph Smith be trusted?” in light of evidence related to his history of error and/or deception regarding many important matters.
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Brokeback Mountain - On Art and Social Change
Monday, Jan 9, 2006, at 08:14 AM
Original Author(s): Carl Smith
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
What follows was sent to me today by Carl Smith (Vanderbilt University - [email withdrawn]) a musician who is also a professor of music. It is wonderfully insightful on a number of levels. Carl would be happy to hear from any of your who have comments regarding his review.



Somehow I seem to have fallen into a pattern of posting a long piece around the first of the year. Perhaps it’s because by that point I have survived the rigors of Christmas as only a church musician knows them, or perhaps it’s because I’m not yet ready to face the rigors of the coming semester at school. Whatever the reason, here’s this year’s candidate for your “delete” button.

As I’m sure many of you have been, I have been utterly astonished by the Brokeback Mountain phenomenon. I can’t recall another new art work that has prompted anywhere near the quantity and quality of discussion and commentary this film has. There has already been an enormous amount written about it, and undoubtedly there will be a great deal more. The film is so huge in scope and so rich in its humanity that it can be seen and understood in many different ways and on many different levels. I have seen it a number of times and have read both the story and the screenplay several times. I confess to being - for once in my life - in agreement with the majority view, which is that the film truly is a masterpiece. Like most masterpieces, it is not without its flaws. But my intent here is not to write another review but rather to point out some interesting aspects of the film and what it shows us about how art works. Still, I do have to add that, as a creative person, what I appreciate most about this film is it’s effectiveness in raising all manner of themes and questions without ever appearing to do so. It is a story, a great story, beautifully told. Its meaning is what each of us understands its meaning to be, and that it allows us so readily to bring to it and take from it as much or as little as we are able is an indication of its greatness. If you have not yet seen it, I urge you to do so. There are more than a few of us who consider it essential.

For any of you who have not seen the film, here is an absurdly brief synopsis.

“Brokeback Mountain” is a short story by Annie Proulx, originally published in the New Yorker magazine; it was adapted into a screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.

Set in 1963 (in some ways a vastly different era from the present), two young men, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, “both high school dropout country boys with no prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life” are hired for a summer to tend sheep high up on Brokeback Mountain. (Since this piece is basically about metaphor, and since I have not seen anyone as yet point them out, I will call to mind in passing our many traditional and religious associations with sheep, especially innocence, naivete, and gullibility.) Jack is the livelier and more emotive of the two; Ennis is much more stoic, taciturn and tight-lipped to a fault. They work high on the mountain, just below and then above the tree line, “looking down on the hawk’s back”. That sex could occur between two young men in such a situation is hardly worth mentioning; if it happened, it would be without comment or consequence. In an essay, Proulx quotes an old sheep rancher who claimed he alwayssent up two herders “so’s if they get lonesome they can poke each other”.

But in this case the two young men not only satisfy their immediate needs, they satisfy a deeper need they are not even aware of, they fall in love, in “once-in-a-lifetime love” as Proulx writes. That kind of love cannot be left behind, and it follows them down the mountain. And it haunts them until one of them is killed physically and the other emotionally. The story is a tragedy. The moral order is transgressed and a harsh penalty is exacted as a result. The sex is, per se, of little consequence to the story. It’s the love that is an offense to the natural order of things, and they die because of it.

When they come down off the mountain, they go their separate ways, although both know on some level it is the wrong thing to do. They marry and father children - and cause a great deal of pain to those around them. They get together a few times a year until Jack’s death, always in remote, desolate, locations - and always in the mountains. But they never return to Brokeback. They refer to it, and it seems ever-present in their lives whether they are together or apart, but physically they never go back.

It is a shame that someone somewhere christened this the “gay cowboy movie” and that the name has stuck. Whenever an exasperated Proulx has the opportunity, she points out that these young men were not cowboys, they were two guys who had pretty much nothing and knew just about as much. They called themselves cowboys in an effort to get by and to buy their way into the cowboy myth, hoping to find in it some kind of community and identity.

What I would like to consider is the dramatic role of that mountain in particular and of mountains in general in this story and in our on-going IRAS discussions of art. It only need be mentioned in passing that ‘going up to the mountain‘ or into the mountains has been used countless times to signify an intentional distancing of oneself for purposes of contemplation, or perhaps to seek inspiration. And God gave Moses the ten commandments on a mountain, Christ gave the sermon ‘on the mount’, from the Magic Mountain to the Seven Story Mountain to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, references to the metaphor of mountain are endless. And we all know immediately what is meant when we hear someone describe ‘a mountain-top experience’.

But there is another metaphorical use for mountain, less familiar perhaps, but one at least as powerful. Artists frequently use the metaphor of ‘going to another place’ when writing or composing. And we sometimes immodestly describe our efforts in Promethean terms, likening ourselves to the ancient Prometheus who stole fire from the gods on MOUNT Olympus. He was punished by torture for his audacity, for his trespass against the gods. We sometimes refer to the act of discovery in the process of creation as “stealing fire from the gods”, and in Christianity divine love is sometimes referred to, especially by poets, as celestial fire. As Jack and Ennis climb higher and higher on Brokeback Mountain, they remove themselves further and further from convention and societal restraint. They are high enough to look down on the back of the hawk, a predator; they are beyond both his reach and his interest. At the tree line, the strongest visual image in the film for me, everything of convention has been left behind. Theyare left to revel in the austerity and innocence of the place, the austerity my friend Belden Lane refers to in his book entitled “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes”. And it is precisely here that they unknowingly touch the gods’ fire.

For artists, crossing back below the metaphorical tree line is sometimes almost unbearably difficult; after the ecstasy of the heights, the mundane can seem stifling. Is should be of little wonder that many of us use drugs of one sort or another to remind ourselves of how much better it feels up there, above the tree line. But we artists are challenged, indeed expected, to bring something back down with us, something that through our art may be made to seem beautiful and of value. The most memorable creative experience I have yet had was in the summer of 1995 when I was given as a work space an almost bare room near the top of the bell tower of a monastery, which was itself located on the highest point on the highest hill in Rome, well above the tree line. It was wonderful, and it was hard work; I was being paid to create something and was expected to bring it down with me. But when Jack and Ennis come down off Brokeback Mountain, they unwittingly bring down with them some of the gods’ forbidden fire, and thetragedy begins to unfold.

Up to this point, everything in the story has taken place in Wyoming in 1963, a now distant time and - for most of us - place. Much in our society has changed since then, much has not. It has only been two years since the Supreme Court struck down the remaining sodomy laws. The story had already been published and widely read when Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and strung up to die in Wyoming in 1998. (I cannot refrain from pointing out that a more common spelling of his name is shepherd, a sheep herder.) The so-called “religious right” was duped into turning an ill-conceived wish by some for gay marriage into a brilliantly conceived hot-button issue just in time for the last election. Frank Rich, writing in the New York Times, predicts that Brokeback Mountain will have a significant impact in the on-going arguments about civil unions and gay marriage. I am going to have a fine time watching to see if that happens; and, if an undeniably great work of art actually influences public thought and policy, itwill be an extraordinary thing. The last time I can think of when that happened was in 1541 when, after its first public viewing on Christmas Day, Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine chapel caused such prudish outrage that graphic artists quickly produced prints of it, which were then distributed in Protestant-leaning northern Europe and were cited as further evidence of the corruption of the Roman church. He was devastated by the reception and misunderstanding of his masterpiece and by it’s politicization. A number of artists were hired in the century following its unveiling to overpaint portions of it. Contemporary accounts maintain that he never again set foot in the chapel where the now much-venerated frescoed ceiling and Last Judgment are to be found.

If Frank Rich is right and Brokeback Mountain does have some sort of societal impact, Michelangelo will have his revenge.

Annie Proulx, in the essay I mentioned earlier, gives us an extraordinary example of one of the ways art works. I will set it up and then quote from her. Somewhere there is a theater, and on a wall in that theater there is a screen, and there are some seats facing that screen, and behind those seats there is some sort of projection gear that throws images onto the screen that our suspension of disbelief allows us to belive are real. Ultimately though, it’s still all smoke and mirrors. Proulx: “Aside from the two-faced landscape, aside from the virtuoso acting, aside from the stunning and subtle makeup job of aging these two young men twenty years, an accumulation of very small details gives the film authenticity and authority: [here a long list of such details, concluding with] the switched-around shirts, the speckled coffeepot, all accumulate and convince us of the truth of the story. People may doubt that young men fall in love up on the snowy heights, but no one disbelieves the speckled coffeepot, and if the coffeepot is true, so is the other.” When you leave the theater, the image of that object (the coffeepot) might linger a bit in your memory. But the response you experienced to the portrayal of the story of their tragic love is not an object, a merely conjured-up image, it is true, a force in the shared human experience. And if you find the parameters of what you know of that shared human experience stretched a bit by watching Brokeback Mountain, you, too, will be guilty of having stolen a bit of the gods’ forbidden fire. Art’s like that.

Sorry this is so long, but you were warned.

Have a good 2006. It will be an interesting year.

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How Much "Color" Do We Need? - A Meditation On "Brokeback Mountain"
Monday, Jan 9, 2006, at 08:28 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
My wife and I went to see "Brokeback Mountain" last night. I have thought a lot about it since. What follows resulted.

Life for Ennis and Jake (the "gay" cowboys) was presented as grey slate punctuated by explosions of color when they could get together. When about to get together, or together, they were presented as having smiles on their faces and a spring in their steps. At all other times, they labored through what "they had to do". This was realistically presented. Life is like this for all of us. There is nothing the matter with grey. In fact, the process of "habituation" (see will ensure that even days jammed full of color will quickly degrade into mostly grey, and we will need to find new sources of color. This continual search for novelty and learning is likely what impelled humanity to occupy its position atop (in some ways) the biological heap.

As I thought about Ennis and Jake’s “color deficit”, I recalled how I perceived my life while Mormon. This is best conveyed by summarizing a series of conversations I had with a close friend shortly after I was released from five years service as a Mormon bishop about 12 years ago. I will call him Bill.

Bill came to me for marital advice. My "bishop’s mantle” was perhaps still at least partly in place, he told me, and while bishop I had developed a reputation for giving at least occasional good advice as a marriage counselor.

Bill said that he was seriously thinking about leaving his wife. They had a number of small children and divorce would be hard on the entire family, but he thought that continuing to model dysfunctional mating behaviour would be worse for the kids. And he felt dead inside; he and his wife shared few interests; they were growing further apart; all they had in common where the kids and Mormon belief (they both were and still are active Mormons); and while he did not have another woman in mind, he dealt with so many at work who shared his hobbies (outdoorsy) that within a short time he would find a mate to compliment him instead of driving him batty. And he acknowledged that he was not good for his wife. She was an attractive, cultured woman who would have no trouble finding another man who would share her world with gusto instead dragging along, as was my friend. What did I think?, he asked.

My advice was that he had made sacred covenants and God would bless him to be able to find enough in common with his wife to make the marriage work if he was irrevocably committed to this; and that in any event, his expectations were too high. He wanted too much color. Life was mostly grey, I told him. Expect grey. Learn to like grey. And when the occasional flash of color comes along, enjoy it to the max because that is the best for which we can reasonably hope. I was merely relating my own experience and telling him that if it was good enough for me, it should be good enough for him.

Bill spoke with other people, got some professional counseling, and stayed with his wife. They are still together as far as I know. However, a few years after the crossroads I just described we happened to run into each other again and almost immediately went deep into conversation. He told me that life was still pretty grey, but that he had learned to cope. He went his way, and she hers, most of the time. They fought about some things, but had learned to predict and stay away from the contentious topics. And, he said, he was seriously thinking about having himself sterilized. “Snipped?”, I queried. No, he replied, "Sterilized. Become a eunuch”, he said.

I was staggered. Why?, I asked. He told me that he had been doing some reading about eunuchs and thought it sounded like a pretty good deal. Getting rid of the sexual tension in his life would make things so much easier. He would not be constantly bothering his wife for sex anymore. He had not discussed this idea with her, but was pretty sure she would be relieved to have sex out of the way permanently. And, he would not be tempted by sexual thoughts when he ran into attractive women. No more problems with masturbation. And he would have so much more energy to devote to business, hobbies, etc.

I told him that I thought he was sick, needed to see a counselor and that if my advice about accepting a grey world was responsible in any way for his circumstances, I was very sorry about that. He laughed off what I had to say, and so I didn’t push it. Within a year of this conversation, I was on my way out of Mormonism.

I now have quite a different take on Bill’s experience. Most of us need more color – more variety; more of what puts a bounce in our step – then his life contained. I needed much more color than I had, and this was in part what caused me to wake up. I was malnourished, but did not realize that until I was so weak that I was stumbling at every other step.

But, I did not need more of the explosive color that Brokeback showed coming into Ennis and Jake’s lives each time they got together. That is rare stuff. Wonderful, miraculous stuff, but rare. A life based on chasing that is likely to be an out of control roller coaster.

The question is, how can we balance our need for stability (and the way in which other lives depend on ours for stability) with our need for novelty, learning, etc.? I explore this to an extent at starting at page 127. However, when I wrote that I had not read enough of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (see and for a primer) to understand how the process works. As the Psychology Today article just noted indicates,

“Flow tends to occur when a person faces a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. It is easy to enter flow in games such as chess, tennis, or poker, because they have goals and rules that make it possible for the player to act without questioning what should be done, and how. For the duration of the game the player lives in a self-contained universe where everything is black and white. The same clarity of goals is present if you perform a religious ritual, play a musical piece, weave a rug, write a computer program, climb a mountain, or perform surgery. In contrast to normal life, these "flow activities" allow a person to focus on goals that are clear and compatible, and provide immediate feedback.

Flow also happens when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”

Having lots of flow experience is correlated to just about every positive life outcome with which I am familiar. And to stay in this experiential space, we must have found ways to continually challenge ourselves; to continually learn; and so to continually grow. It is growth that feels good.

I think Brokeback is a wonderful film. It shatters stereotypes of many kinds, and by so doing increased my understanding of a way of life that I regard as legitimate, but have not had the chance to understand. I am therefore grateful for this movie and take its wide acceptance as a healthy “sign of the times”.

However, to make its tragic point Brokeback needed to emphasize a certain kind of pathos as well as a certain kind of joy. This useful caricature could lead some to look for life sustaining color in the wrong place.

Ennis and Jake had certain needs that their culture prevented them from satisfying. This social wrong should be righted. However, had their needs in this regard been met they would soon have habituated and their relationship would have become grey until they found ways to use the principles articulated so well by Csikszentmihalyi, Martin Seligman (see and others to enliven both their individual lives and their relationship. Continual growth, and hence sustainable growth, is the key.

And we should all continue to feel gratitude for the occasional miracles of joy, illustrated so well by Ennis and Jake, when they burst into our lives.


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Analogies For "Leaving The Fold"
Wednesday, Jan 11, 2006, at 07:47 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I have said that our brains have to be re-wired and this is done by running new through patterns over new circuits that are formed by our new way of paying attention to reality and processing information about it while certain old circuits (such as those related to deferring to Mormon and other authority, being a conformist, etc.) fall into decay. This is like paths through a park. Those that are used become better defined; those that are not grow over. Or it is like the tracks water makes as it runs down hill. The first random grooves tend to capture subsequent water falls and become deeper. We need to take steps at the top of the slope to redirect the water into channels that we have determined to use.

I have said that I am like a sapling that has been deformed by growing out from under a boulder. When the boulder is moved, it is not enough to just "straighten out" the sapling. It will have to be staked and held straight for a long time before it will retain its new shape. And if the "sapling" is 44 years old when you move the boulder, you simply have to live with a crooked tree that will start to grow in new directions from its deformed base. With enough work this often produces unusual, beauty like the Diamond Willow, whose wonderful growth pattern is a reaction to its battle against a fungus. Or, you may just lop off entire huge branches because you realise that it is not a good thing for the tree's energy to be directed toward them. This pruning will be painful, but it will cause new growth to rapidly reshape the tree, and after enough time the warped foundation may be hard to see unless you know what you are looking for.

I have said that I am like a concrete foundation that is cracked all to hell, and even has some big chunks missing from it, such as was found to be the case with our house's foundation after a huge rainstorm that flooded our basement in June of last year. It took six months to repair, as a large section of the footings under the old foundation that was falling apart because it was not properly laid had to be jack hammered out one piece at a time and replaced. If the entire section of footings was removed at once, the front of the house would have collapsed. So, a few feet of footings at a time was hammered out, and then replaced. The remainder of the rotten concrete was enough to support this restoration process and in fact was critical to its success. But continuing to live with that old foundation was not an option. It had a high probability of collapsing. However, once the jack hammering, re-cementing, plastering, framing, insulating and drywalling were done, we had a wide range of decisions to make. What color would we paint? The carpet had to be replaced. What color would that be? Should we make some changes since we has to redo things? We eventually redecorated so as to change the look of many things about our home. This we chose, but it was in some ways driven by the things that had to be done. With that impetus, the inertia of what "was" would like have caused us to continue with little change. Still, there was a huge difference between the process that forced itself upon us, and the more enjoyable, creative exercise that it invited us to embark upon.
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Why Do I No Longer Rage At Mormon Idiocy?
Wednesday, Jan 11, 2006, at 08:08 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I am not looking for the answer, “Because you are a pussy.” At some level it makes sense to rage at idiocy. But I recognized something that went way beyond normal in my reaction to Mormon idiocy. These were my people; my former idiocy; and it got to me so completely that I would rage. And especially when someone close to me rubbed my nose in it. I could feel the adrenalin hit like a freight train, and off I would go.

But think about this. If a casual acquaintance bears serious testimony that God loves me so much that he planted dinosaur bones in a 6,000 year old Earth to test my faith or that if I change the spelling of my name the course of my life will also change (I was told this – seriously – at a Christmas party a few weeks ago by a numerologist), I have trouble not laughing out loud while saying something like “How about that amazing Vince Young in the Rose Bowl!” or whatever, and then escaping the conversation as soon as I can. And then I do laugh out loud.

Why then, until recently, would I get so upset when my loved ones insisted that Joseph Smith was commanded by God to have sex with other mens’ wives and teenage girls, translated a book using the same magic peep stone he used to pretend to find (while not finding) buried treasure, etc.? And more importantly, why do I no longer feel the same degree of upset? Am I just "healing"? And in any event, what are the important things that have changed in my life to facilitate this?

I think most of the reason for this change in my experience is found in the branches of social science research related to attachment theory (see and individuation as they relate to religious and other social groups (see for example Lee Kirkpatrick, “Evolution, Attachment and the Psychology of Religion” - This theory suggests that we need attachment to certain kinds of authority or security figures starting with a primary care giver and ending with intimate mates and various groups, and that we can be conditioned to have varying degrees of need in this regard by our experience. Mormonism supercharges our need for the group, and so attachment of that kind is a powerful drag on those who leave Mormonism. This is one of the many things that makes it hard to become a post-Mormon.

Until our attachment needs are met by a combination of connecting to another group or groups and weaning ourselves from the unhealthy dependency on authority of various kinds that Mormonism has caused, we will tend to react strongly to messages that confirm the unwelcome fact that we are sans group. That is, each time a close friend or family member rubs information in our face that demonstrates that we no longer belong to our only group of signicance, our tendency will be to persuade the person who has approached us (or whom perhaps we have approached) that she is wrong and we are right. If we succeed, we will have company in our loneliness.

And why do men tend to have an easier time with this hellish adjustment than women? Mormon men tend to have more non-Mormon attachments than do Mormon women. And men in general do not attach as thoughly to others as do women. Simple as that.

As we become securely attached to other groups and develop a set of healthy relationships that fill the need most of us feel for camaraderie, intimacy, identity with others, etc. our reaction to Mormon family and friends changes in many ways. In particular, the desire to persuade them declines. If they challenge us, we react less aggressively or not at all.

In short, we begin to treat Mormon idiocy (even when it comes from those closest to us) with the same kind of understanding and grace (or lack thereof) with which we treat other similar kinds of lunacy. And we can take this as evidence that we are healing.

Relationships to parents and other aspects of the family group are complicated by the way in which Mormonism uses parental and other forms of authority to control individuals and cause allegiance to the Mormon system. Hence, Mormon children do not individuate away from parental control to the same extent as do most other members of North American society. For some insight into how this likely works, see Richard Nesbitt “The Geography of Thought”.

It is often necessary to radically restructure the parental relationship in order to get past the conflict that results when Mormon authority is rejected. From the parents’ point of view, the rejection of Mormon authority is also a fundamental rejection of parental authority. This is another example of the problems Mormonism causes by confounding important aspects of life in order to reduc the chance that it will be jettisoned. For example, marriage is placed on a social and religious pedestal within Mormonism, and if you want to be at your grandchildren’s marriages in the temple, you have to toe a certain behavioural (and financial) line.

If you want to marry in the temple or go on a mission, both important rites of social passage for young Mormons, you have to promise absolute obedience to all kinds of Mormon authority while in a Mormon temple and that promise is sprung on you without warning in circumstances were it is highly probable that you will make it. Having made this promise, the psychologists tell us that it is likely to significantly influence behavior.

Having married Mormon, you committed to be obedient to Mormon authority as part of the marriage covenant. The marriage is hence based in large measure on a joint commitment to obey. To break that promise threatens the marriage, which radically reduces the chances of disobedience. I know many people who fake it precisely to avoid marital conflict and possible divorce. This impoverishes their lives, not to mention what it does to their children.

So, to reject Mormonism requires the rejection of a system of behaviour, social connections and relationships that go far beyond what would be required to leave many other belief systems.

During months of fighting with my parents over issues related to Mormonism we repeatedly agreed that we would not bring Mormonism up and all of us broke that agreement many times in different ways. I think attachment and lack of individuation on mostly explains this.

My parents are incomplete without me in the Celestial Kingdom and hence my disagreement threatened them at an existential level that is beyond articulation. I was still pscyhologically on them and their approval in many ways, though I would never have guessed that and nor would anyone who knows me well. Disagreeing pleasantly in that situation was extremely difficult to do.

Finally, I simply withdrew from the relationship. While difficult, this has been far preferable to being engaged with them as we were. And as my need for attachment to them and other aspects of Mormonism declines and other healthy relationships form, reengagement has become possible. Whether I will pursue it is another question. My life is peaceful now to a degree that is both new and enjoyable. The idea of visiting the cloister saddens me, much as I suspect would be the case for a Hutterite who has left the colony. I still love many people who are mired in pathetic circumstances. To be reminded of where and what they are does not lift my spirit.

I think that it is important to work at forgiving those who have harmed us as Martin Seligman (see and other psychologists say is so important from a mental health and happiness point of view. However, the further down this road I go the more important I think it is to create a new life, think new thoughts, find new and more healthy relationships, etc. Processing the hurt works to an extent, but filling up with the wonder around us was more important for me.

As our life brims with enjoyable, healthy activities, we are more whole. If "psychological healing" metaphor is valid, this is where the process at its root mostly occurs. But I am not sure that this is so much a function of healing as just filling spaces that we need to be full.

In the long term, it makes sense to think about how large and of what shape those spaces should be. But in the short term, and particularly while in the midst of the trauma caused by leaving Mormonism, it makes sense to me to simply fill our emptiness with reasonable and more healthy substitutes for what Mormonism did in our lives. This is surprisingly easy to do. We are far more adaptable than we think. Most other people are more kind, generous, ethical and enjoyable than as Mormons we were taught to believe. And there are far more ways to connect in meaningful ways with these people. At the kids' school; at the kids' sporting activities; at community centres; through continuing education classes; through hobbies; through political or other “cause” oriented involvement; etc.

And art itself is a wonderful source of the perspective that in what seems a mysterious way causes us to heal. See Charing perspective changes the size and shape of our holes.

I think we can learn a lot about how well our recovery process is going by paying attention to our baseline behaviour when confronted by ideological idiocy exhibited by groups to which we have not been attached, and comparing that to how we react to Mormon idiocy. When our behaviour is each of these cases is similar, we are well along the road in the right direction.

Life is good. This good surrounds us, flowing by up to our gunnels. We need do little more than reach out our humble bowls and they will be filled to overflowing with human abundance.


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Are Heretics Good For Mormonism?; Are Liberal Mormons Bad?; The Dysfunctional Nature Of Mormon Decision-Making
Thursday, Jan 12, 2006, at 07:58 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
The following is a lightly edited note I recently sent as part of an email exchange with a well-known, well-informed liberal Mormon who continues to suppport Mormonism.



I am not a Webberian prophet (as per his prophets v. priests distinction), but I am a Campbellite heretic. Joseph Campbell said that heretics are the life blood of most institution who act as an important part of the external nervous system that transmit important messages back to the decision makers in their bunkers. Your path is radically different from mine. I am not critical of your approach and think there is great value in it while being clear that I could not, and would not with to try, to do what you do. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

However, I tire while dealing with people in the liberal Mormon community of being given this label (the "180-degree-switched-true-believer"). It is a classic, and shallow, believers ploy, which I thank you for not applying to me.

Literalist Mormonism makes as much (or little) sense as literalist JW, Young Earth Creationist, alien abduction, etc. belief. To be clear on that point is not to become a 180 degree true believer. Nor is it a 180 degree flip to apply normal probabilistic, cost-benefit analysis to Mormon social practises. Having done that, I have concluded that while Mormonism offers much that is of value, at this point in its evolution it offers far more that is dysfunctional than is functional when compared to readily available other groups where I live, and I suspect in most places. Parts of Utah may be an exception to this general rule. You and I may disagree on this point, and that is fine.

Too many liberal Mormons use the 180-degree label to dismiss those who disagree with them. This is a common form of irrational behaviour that we should seek to weed out everywhere we find it. You would enjoy "The Wisdom of Crowds" (see and for reviews see While not being without shortcoming, it goes a long ways towards explaining the dysfunctional, and functional, aspects of group decision making.

A lot of liberal or fringe Mormon behaviour is explained by the lingering and powerfully dysfunctional influence of the Mormon individual and group epistemic system. If you described how the Mormon Church makes decisions, and teaches its members to make decisions and then compare that to the decision making features that scholars tell us are calculated to produce dysfunctional decisions, the overlap is staggering. The opposite analysis produces similar results. That is, the mechanisms the scholars tell us are likely to produce functional decisions are notable in Mormonism mostly by their absence.

The more clearly and palatably this message is articulated, the more pressure for change will be brought to bear on Mormon leaders. In my view, many liberal Mormons are delaying this process of change by offering support for institutions that are profoundly dysfunctional.

I don't believe Mormon leaders will change until they must. This is consistent with org theory in general, and the history of Mormonism in particular. And the insular, dysfunctional decision making paradigm used by Mormon leaders makes it likely that a sledge hammer will have to be used on them to get their attention. The best sledgehammer I know of is declining baptisms, declining attendance, and most importantly, declining contribution of volunteer time and money.

However, I recognize the practical difficulties we face when trying to change a culture quickly. Those who wish to change Mormonism from the inside often, it seems to me, attempt to protect other Mormon from certain painful and harsh realities about Mormonism. In this they resemble the well intentioned family members profiled in "Goodbye, Lenin!" (see Frequently when well intended protection of this type is offered, the pain that must eventually be endured multiplies exponentially as time passes.

While I recognize how tough it is to deal with questions of faith and social foundations, I err on the side of telling it like it is and letting the chips fall where they may. When this strategy is considered from a multi-generational point of view, it has particular merit.

I also, however, note the analogy of changing Mormonism at large or its role in any particular life to a recent home renovation that nature forced on us. We had a 100 year flood in Alberta last summer, prompted by a storm of 100 year quality. This exposed weaknesses in the foundation of our home. The footings under about 25% of our walls were crumbling as a result of improper construction techniques. If the entire section of footings was removed at once, the front of the house would have collapsed. So, a few feet of footings at a time were hammered out, and then replaced. This took six months. The remainder of the rotten concrete was enough to support this restoration process and in fact was critical to its success. But continuing to live with that old foundation was not an option. It had a high probability of collapsing.

However, once the jack hammering, re-cementing, plastering, framing, insulating and drywalling were done, we had a wide range of decisions to make. What color would we paint? The carpet had to be replaced. What color would that be? Should we make some changes since we has to redo things? We eventually redecorated so as to change the look of many things about our home. This we chose, but it was in some ways driven by the things that had to be done. With that impetus, the inertia of what “was” would like have caused us to continue with little change. Still, there was a huge difference between the process that forced itself upon us, and the more enjoyable, creative exercise that it invited us to embark upon.

Replacing foundations is a tricky exercise.
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What Does It Mean When We Feel The "Veil Getting Thin"?
Friday, Jan 13, 2006, at 08:05 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Karl Peters (see is a theological who participates on an email list to which I also subscribe. His views run along the naturalist/humanist (or even atheist) line. He teaches at a theological seminary and is a UU pastor. I heard him speak last summer. He is brilliant – moving, funny, huge range of knowledge regarding science, history, etc.

Earlier today Karl posted to our list a nice piece on what he called “thin places”. I would have liked to share it here, but Karl asked that we not post it off the list since it is part of a manuscript for a book he will shortly publish.

“Thin places”, Karl tells us, have been known in many cultures as those where we encounter the divine, or something real, or something special, and he tells a number of personal stories about his encounters of this variety as well as giving some interesting historical background. My response to his post is below.

This kind of interaction has been very helpful to me. It provides a context for my Mormon experience by illustrating how much of it is common to many groups of people, and how much of it is pure Bizarro.




I enjoyed that immensely. The concept of “thin places” has a prominent role in my inherited belief tradition (Mormonism), and as the post I sent out a moment ago regarding the meaning of the word “religious”, I still find many places thin.

I wonder if in your book or elsewhere if you have considered the concept of a “mirage thin place”? I also wonder what others who read here think about this. There are so many ways in which our sense of reality can be heightened, or our ego sense suppressed, to produce desirable states of mind. What guidance can you (or others) give as to how we can reasonably attach meaning to these?

Since you mentioned the “flow” state, I will illustrate my point with an example that will seem innocuous for at least those who do not take sports seriously.

It has been shown that statistically when a pro basketball player is "hot" he has no better chance than usual of hitting his next shot, and the same is true when he is cold. I have been hot on the basketball court many times, and but for the data I have reviewed on this point, I could never have been convinced that while "hot" I did not have a better than usual chance of hitting my shots. The feeling of "hotness" and "coldness" is as unconnected to realty in the gym as the casino, and likely in the performance hall, art studio and many other places. Our mind is a great trickster. In these cases, the adrenalin and other chemicals caused by certain kinds of success create a mental space that feels, and is, special while all of the evidence indicates that our physical abilities and circumstances remain within their usual limits. These are only a few of countless examples that can be marshalled to illustrate a “mirage thin place”.

The very idea of a “thin place” posits a barrier between reality as we dimly perceive it and something that is a more accurate perception of reality, or even what is “more real than real” to use Andy Newberg’s term. “Seeing through the glass darkly” is one of our most commonly used metaphors to describe the difference between normal and heightened experience. This has been used in one form or another in countless cultures, ancient and modern. Even Bill Clinton is in on this act (see

Without trying to answer the question “What causes the thin place experience?”, I note that where we find our most important thin places and the meanings we attribute to them correlate with our metaphysics – our unquestionable and often unfalsifiable foundational beliefs. In logical terms, these are our premises.

And on the other hand, we have an immense base of neurological, psychological etc. data that tells us a lot about cause and effect mechanisms that reasonably account for why we feel as we do in thin places. And this also correlates in interesting ways to social or cultural experience.

I also suggest that by mapping the thin places commonly frequented or sought out by members of a particular social group against the metaphysics of the group, we are likely to find interesting patterns similar to those that are found when we map group metaphysical beliefs against the tendency of group members to irrationally deny the accuracy of information produced by scientific investigation. This mapping is crudely described at starting at page 8. This notes were hurriedly put together. I think the core idea is sound, but a lot of the rest needs much work.

As an example of how thin places correlate to metaphysics, consider the following. An important and literal Mormon belief is that all humans lived prior to coming to Earth with God in a “pre-existence”. There, everyone who eventually will come to Earth committed to God to be faithful to His commandments and come to Earth to have their commitment tested in various ways. The test would not work if the pre-Earth life was remembered, so a “veil of forgetfulness” is drawn by God across the human mind that blocks both memories of our pre-Earth existence as well as perception of the “spirit world” that Mormons believe exists around us on Earth, in the kind of extra dimension that string theory postulates. Many intellectual Mormons like ideas of the string theory, QM sort that they think cast doubt on the “reductionist” views of scientists that question Mormon foundational beliefs. And in God’s world (the world we inhabited in our pre-Earth life) there is no time – the past, present and future are all before go simultaneously. “Thin places” in Mormon phenomenology, are thought to be caused by a literal thinning of “the veil”. This accounts for:
  • Deja vu experiences when we meet someone or experience something familiar (You knew this person or knew of this experience before coming to Earth).
  • The powerful impulse to do one thing or another we sometimes feel (God is speaking to us from the other side of the veil – see Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven” for a chilling account of where that can go).
  • The way nature sometimes moves us (Nature is God’s handiwork and he often communicates his love to us while we are in tune with it, which means we must be in tune with him, and when we feel these wonderful feelings this is evidence that God continues to do His most important work through the leaders of the Mormon Church).
  • The reverence and awe Mormons feel when in the presence of their religious leaders, particular in large groups (These men are God’s literal representatives on Earth, are the only humans who communicate with God on an intimate basis, and hence the veil around them is thinner than usual).
  • The feelings of peace and joy that come to Mormons when they make tremendous financial and other sacrifices for their faith, believe that this earns them a higher status after death as a result of passing this part of God’s test for them, and are recognized by their community for those sacrifices (Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of Heaven, one of which is a thinning of the veil so that we can feel God’s love).
  • The feelings of peace and joy that come to Mormons when they are in Mormon temples, which are opulently decorated, reverent places filled with people dressed in white and in an attitude of worship (Mormon temples are literally the only place on Earth holy enough to accept God’s literal presence and hence to which he literally comes, and hence the veil is particularly thin there).
  • Etc.
The Mormon thin places are wonderfully moving. And I know them well. Nothing in my experience allows me to distinguish phenomenologically between them and other similarly moving and far more healthy experiences I have had in other environments, such as the chapel on Star Island listening to you.

I hope this post is not construed as a disrespectful attempt to unweave a rainbow. I treasure my thin place experiences, and would like to find ways to rationally decide how much to give myself over to them. I have some ideas in that regard. I will keep those to myself for now while learning from what others think.


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Art Therapy For Recovering Mormons
Wednesday, Jan 18, 2006, at 10:07 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Art Therapy for Recovering Mormons

I just returned for my first art class, and have had an experience so interesting that I need to write about it in order to process what happened. As I sit here, getting started, I have no idea where this is going to end up.

As indicated in my essay at there is solid scholarly support for the idea that engaging the right brain through an artistic endeavor of some kind should help us break through mental log jams, enable us to perceive many thing more clearly, “restory” ourselves, and otherwise advance in our recovery from the effects of a lifetime of Mormon belief and practise. So, I signed up for an art class – figure drawing for beginners at the Alberta College of Art and Design – in my hometown (Calgary, Alberta). I was surprised to learn that ACAD has a world class reputation. I don’t get out much. The instructor, Richard Halliday, is the recently retired head of ACAD’s Department of Drawing. He is a pleasant, encyclopedic instructor. There are 20 students in the class, most with significant prior experience who were attracted to the class by Richard’s presence.

The class meets once a week – Tuesdays from 7 until 10 pm. Tonight the first hour was used for administrative stuff. For the second two hours we draw non-stop with a 15 minute break.

Richard had us start with some scribbling. I understand that I need to get into right brain space (a semi-meditative state) to draw and so while Richard talks about admin stuff and then we scribble, I am focusing on one thing or another in an attempt to shut down my chattering left brain.

A female model joins us, and Richard has us shift from scribbling randomly to scribbling her dynamically posing form. We are not to more than occasionally glance at the paper. We are to trust our hand, and to feel that we are scribbling on the model. I realize later that at this stage of the class I sink into the semi-trance I had earlier sought.

During the course of the roughly hour and a half that we draw, Richard has the model change position every 2 to 10 minutes, depending on the exercise he has us working on. And with each change we start a new drawing. We progress from quick scribbling to more deliberate scribbling to shading, which emphasizes “volume” (the perception of three dimensions) through the use of shadow. Time passes unnoticed.

By the end of the session I feel much as I did during our creative writing, and parts of our painting, experience in France. This is an odd sensation, one so rare for me that I want to record it while the memory is still fresh. I did not do this in France quickly enough to catch it.

Exhilaration is the wrong term. The feeling is both more full, and flatter, than exhilaration. The feeling is one of satiation; of being filled with something good almost to overflowing; but still vibrating with latent energy. There is no desire to shout or dance. The feeling is quieter and more fulfilled than that. It is more like roots going down deep and nurture coming up than fireworks going off. And this feeling held steady during a long walk to my car, a 20 minute drive home and only started to fade as I did a few chores and began to get ready for bed. As I realized it was fading I decided that I needed to do some writing.

Another sense that was so clear I could taste it was that what I did tonight was profoundly healthy. It was a little like just the right amount of physical exercise – when your body thanks you over and again for choosing to work out and stopping before you hurt something. I can feel my life forces giggling around inside into what seem more like their proper places. I feel profoundly at peace.

I am not sure where this leads, but am excited to continue the trip. My recommendation of “art therapy for recovering Mormons” just become more clear and enthusiastic.


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How Hard Is It To Be A "HalfMo"?
Saturday, Jan 21, 2006, at 09:53 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I personally have no criticism for people who are well informed and decide to continue to participate in the Motrix on their terms as long as their actions in this regard to do not impair their children's (or other's who rely on them) opportunity to develop in a healthy fashion. They are using religion – as should be the case – instead of being used by it. But this is harder to do that we might imagine.

Each path before us has offers different pros and cons and the one Maturin and other people who I know personally and respect have chosen has a few cons that are particularly difficult in some circumstances. It also offers important pros (peace at home; some business and community relationships of particular importance that are not severed; etc.) I don't minimize these, and understand that I can't understand how important they are to a person's life unless I had lived it. And finally, I think it is fair to consider how our personality types play into this. We are geared genetically and conditioned by experience to deal with stress and confrontation in different ways. For some people it would be impossible to do what I feel compelled to do. I don't fault them for that. Hence, it is somewhere between difficult and impossible for me to judge that the decision of any particular person is "wrong".

However, I think it is useful to consider that price the those who choose this particular path are required to pay. Having done so, I think that it is fair to indicate that in general, this path is not to be recommended. And again, I do so without any criticism for Maturin in particular. Here are the big "cons" from my point of view with which one must deal while on path of "inner darkness", as one of my friends likes to call it:

1. The kids. I think the children of those who remain "active" while they are "unfaithful" face particular challenges. Can they be raised within the Mormon conditioning system and somehow not be infected by it? My personal view is that up until 8 or perhaps 12 years old, the Mormon system works great. But when it is time to learn about the reality of Santa Claus, sex and many other things, Mormonism breaks down.

There are at least two sides to this coin. The first is the least important. The child raised within Mormonism does not have as much chance (and in some cases no chance) of learning many important things. I won't try to be complete, since that would mean writing a book. But a few things that come immediately to mind are:

a. Scientific (or merely "rational") thinking. The Mormon use of "feelings" to find "knowledge" is the antithesis of science and highly dysfunctional.

b. Metaphoric thinking. A literal minded approach to most things is unhealthy. Mormons tend to be far too literal minded. It is healthy to introduce children at the earliest possible age to metaphoric, symbolic thinking. This opportunity is degraded or killed by Mormonism.

c. Global thinking. Mormonism is tribal to the core. This means that issues related to the importance of breaking down tribal barriers are not dealt with.

d. Environmental/overpopulation issues. These not on the Mormon map because the conflict with basic Mormon beliefs, and this is not likely to change anything soon. This is likely to lead to a life out of sync with reality in many important ways.

The second side of the coin is much more important. Children raised Mormon are taught some profoundly unhealthy things, including the opposites of each of those mentioned above. But most of all, think of how confused the moral reasoning of a child raised Mormon by unfaithful parents is likely to become. At what age can a child deal with this kind of complexity: "The nice people at church mean well, but they don't know what they are talking about. So, you have to ignore them when the say … But don't tell them that you disagree with them, because that will only make them upset and cause trouble for our family. I know this is different from how we have talked about behaving at school and elsewhere, but church is a special place and we have special ways of behaving there. And, I know you had a lesson last week about how taking the sacrament renews your baptismal covenant and how that means that you are promising to obey all of god's commandments each week when you take the sacrament and that Dad doesn't obey everything the Church's leaders want him to obey. You need to understand that when we promise to obey at church, it is not like a promise to obey we give in other places …"

I suggest that there is no age at which that kind of thinking would be healthy, and that for a child it would be profoundly dysfunctional. As I noted on a recent thread, psychologists have shown that those who rationalize in this fashion in any environment tend to begin to do so in other environments. It degrades the moral fiber of those who do it.

2. Relationships with our kids. As has been noted on many threads here, the Church does its best to become a party to our most intimate relationships. That is what is at work here. The Church attempts, through its well intentioned youth leaders, to put itself in a position where if Mom and Dad stumble in their responsibility to teach a child the "truth", the Church can do it in their stead. And if the child chooses the Church over their parents at some point, it will be there to support the child. And in any event, this is an environment so rich in cog dis that I question how healthy it is. How early can a child learn to walk the mine field of inner darkness? Who can I speak to, and who not? And in each case, what can I say? This is a complex environment. It reminds me of the children of holocaust Jews in hiding who had to learn to be quiet in order not to threaten the lives of their families, and themselves.

I experience the trumping of parents by church in a minor way with my ultra faithful parents. When we married, my wife and I were counseled by a CES director in Edmonton that we should start our family immediately, and were provided with lots of prophetic advice to support that position. My parents encouraged us to wait a little while at least. We felt that they were "slipping" a bit in their faithfulness, and followed the prophets advice. Baby no. 1 was born 10 months after our marriage, and my wife was sick more or less constantly for the following 17 years as she had baby after baby. I was concerned about this. She felt that she wanted to continue no doubt out of a desire to be "faithful". I felt it was her decision, and so supported her in that. We had our heads up our asses. But I digress.

3. The kids friendships. Mormon friendships are largely condtional upon continued obedience to Mormon authority. When the kids are young, this is not a big deal. As they progress through their teenage years, and approach mission age, it becomes critical. A kid who gets off the "mission/temple marriage" path is likely to lose most of his or her Mormon friends. This alone gets some kids into the mission field where the worst possible conditioning takes place. I think it is much more healthy to allow our kids to form friendships that are likely to be less conditional/more authentic from the get go. Learning to pick kids from a large population at school or elsewhere that are compatible with you and whose company you enjoy requires the development of certain skills. The Mormon way (around here at least) is to have your friends picked for you by the few your age who are Mormon and in your ward or at your school. We spent years fostering friendships that were likely less than optimal. One son in particular was forced to endure endless hours with a mean kid his age who was in our ward. He came to regard that boy as his only "real" friend, largely because of the vast amount of time they spent together. This I am sure was not healthy for his self esteem. He is now developing a broader spectrum of friends who seem to treat him much more nicely.

I hope that is enough to make my point re kids. I decided that being raised mormon in the envrioment just described might make my kids strong, but so might naming each of my sons Sue, and I didn't do that. I think people who have children at home and attending church are in a much more difficult position re the path of inner darkness than are people whose kids have left (or almost left) home. I know some people who are well informed re the Church's history and take the position that their kids will figure it out, as did they and so do not say anything. I do not think that this position is morally sound, on any basis I have reviewed. To purposefully withhold important information that you would have wished to have had at the same stage in life is in breach of the golden rule, moral principles based in utilitarian theory, and most of what I understand about morality that is based on justice theory. Those are my three primary filters for moral reasoning. The same reasoning, precisely, condemns the Church's leadership for keeping the members in the dark – they do not wish to lose things they (the leaders) value like the followership of the members and so decide to withhold information that may cause the members to disobey them, even through leaving the members in such ignorance is bad for the members. If a parent chooses to leave his or her child in ignorance out of fear that the parent will lose status in the community, or that important relationships of the parent will be disrupted, it is my view that this is at best questionable for a moral point of view.

3. Self respect. Again, different people are affected by this kind of issue in different ways. I was not able to look myself in the eye for the brief time I tried to believe x and appear to most people to believe y. I felt inauthentic. I can tell that some people like Maturin struggle with this. It is part of the price they pay to keep the peace, or whatever. And I know some people who are not bothered by this at all. They cruise along, doing their own thing.

4. Support for something that is on balance more bad than good. I suspect that at least some of my parents university oriented friends who were active church members while I was growing up were closet doubters or apostates. But they never let on. As I matured, in this crowd of mormon university professors and professionals, it was easy to adopt a "if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for me" mentality, and so not question. The church's policy of silencing dissenters is designed to facilitate this. This is why it makes perfect sense from a policy point of view for the church to permit disbelievers who will keep their mouths shut to attend: the Church gets a free crack at conditioning their kids; and the very presence of intellectual types who do not overtly question makes it easier to persuade those who are less inclined to question in any event to follow along. This is kind of like following along with the Nazi's, but at least not bayoneting any babies yourself, in my view.

Let me conclude with a little analogy that I owe to the philosopher Alan Watts. He says religion is the boat we use to cross a lake so that we can find a place that works well for us from a spiritual point of view. We must cross the lake. There is unlimited space on the other side, whereas all we have is a boat launch where we come into this life. And while it is possible to swim the lake, but few can do that on their own. It makes the most sense to use a boat, and there are lots that are readily available. But, says Watts, make sure you remember to get off the boat when it reaches the other side. And if you are unlucky enough to have a boatman who insists that you stay on his boat as he travels back and forth (some are much worse for this than others), ignore him and get off anyway.

Maturin and others are in the regrettable position of being surrounded by people who insist on staying on the boat while it goes back and forth. That poses a difficult question – does one get off alone, or stay on the boat and pretend. Maturin and others choose to stay – sort of. He spends a lot of time looking through binoculars at what is happening on land. He sneaks off when the boat touches land, spends as much time as possible off the boat without getting caught, and gets back on when he has to. He might, perhaps, even arrange for a dummy who looks like him to be propped up in a corner on the boat for a full voyage so that he can really enjoy land life for a while. Not a pleasant position to be in.

I have nothing but encouragement to offer to those who, like Maturin, have awakened and then find that the price required to get out is so high that it is worth paying the price exacted of those (and their posterity) who stay in.

All the best,

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Ecological V. Deliberative Rationality - A Key To Understanding Human Behaviour
Thursday, Feb 2, 2006, at 07:49 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Another line of research identifies two kinds of rationality – one that is adaptive or practical (called "ecological rationality") that deals with things like social and moral behaviour and what is "rational" given a particular social and emotional reality. This is a species of the “bounded rationality” discussed above. And other that is more rational an less emotional in orientation, and is called “deliberative rationality”.

The laws that govern ecological rationality are not absolute in the sense that the law of gravity is absolute. Rather, they are relative to particular social structures and circumstances. For example, while I served a mission in Peru many years ago our Mission President authorized us to drink both tea and Coca Cola (both thought by most Mormons to be contrary to the Word of Wisdom) since they were safer than the water we might otherwise drink, and because he believed (wrongly as it turned out) that both had curative properties relative to stomach parasites. As our presiding religious authority, his instructions to us in that regard changed our “ecology”, and hence our behaviour. What was not socially acceptable in Mormon missionary society generally speaking became so simply because he said it should be.

On the other hand, while visiting Peru with my family a couple of years ago I took a great deal of abuse from some of them for drinking tea made from the leaf of the coca plant, from which cocaine is derived. This is the local remedy for altitude sickness (kind of like a mild case of the flu) in the areas between 11,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level that we visited. A glass of this tea has roughly the same effect as an extra strength Tylenol pill. But, its association with cocaine was off putting for my family because of their 21st century/North American/Mormon ecology. At the time, I was a faithful Mormon as well, but my experience years earlier in Peru had accustomed me to the use of herbs (including the coca plant) for various legitimate purposes. From my point of view, drinking that tea was as legitimate as taking Tylenol, and much easier. And just as Tylenol 3 is regularly abused, so is the drug that can be obtained by processing and refining coca leaves in a particular way to produce cocaine. And if we went back a couple of generations in time in North America, we would find a completely different ecology respecting cocaine itself. We forget that not long ago cocaine made Coca Cola the cultural fixture it is, and that during the same period of time cocaine was sold over the counter in North American drug stores as a cure all. Ecologies change, and as they do so does the ecological reasoning they produce.

A more jarring example of bounded or ecological rationality is the behavior of a battered spouse who chooses to remain with her husband in circumstances where she may not survive without his breadwinning assistance. That is, being physically or emotionally abused is rational if probable homeless and all that goes with it for self and children is the alternative. Other features of human psychology such as denial and cognitive dissonance (described below) often strengthen this process by suppressing information that if consciously acknowledged might compel the abused spouse to action that her unconscious mind fears. The same sort of mental processes may well apply to a male whose mate is having an affair with the most powerful individual in a violent social group, such as a primitive tribe, a Mafioso community or a group of chimpanzees.

Deliberative rationality, on the other hand, includes the kind of reasoning required by the scientific method.

As Matteo Mameli notes:

"Evolutionary considerations (and neurological data) indicate that emotions are very important (and in many more ways than people usually think) … for [ecological rationality, including] social and moral rationality. But things are different with deliberative rationality. Emotions do not help with deliberative rationality. Deliberative rationality is the ability that a person has when (i) she is able to form beliefs about which mental state she ought to be in, (ii) she is able to form the intention to be in this mental state, and (iii) this intention is successful (i.e. the intention causes the person to be in the mental state she thinks she ought to be in). A paradigmatic case of deliberative rationality is scientific rationality. The scientist examines the data at her disposal and (i) she forms the belief that she ought to believe in the truth of theory T, (ii) as a result of this belief she forms the intention to believe in T's truth, and (iii) as a result of this intention she believes in T's truth.

Evolutionary considerations (and neurological data) suggest that emotions limit the extent to which humans can be deliberatively rational. Intentions to have certain emotional reactions and to avoid other emotional reactions are often unsuccessful, and for good evolutionary reasons. The different roles that emotions play in (two different kinds of) rational behaviour explain why the debate about the rationality of emotions has been so long and so messy." (Matteo Mameli, Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, London School of Economics, "The Rationality of Emotions from an Evolutionary Point of View", to be published in "Emotion, Evolution and Rationality", Oxford University Press, March 2004)

For example, it is "rational" for me to wish to get along within my family and community, and the thought of being ostracized produces fear – a strong, negative emotional reaction. This is likely due to the historic connection between being shut out of society and non-survival. Hence, behaviour that prevents my expulsion from the safety of society is supremely rational in an ecological sense. And yet, that behaviour may require that I deny reality. To use a crude example, imagine the primitive male who has seen plenty of evidence that his mate may be having sexual relations with the group's powerful male leader. Further assume that a confrontation with the leader would not likely bode well for the first male's survival. It appears that our brains have developed mechanisms that will screen an amazing amount of dangerous information such as this so that we do not need to deal with it. Sometimes this is a good thing, and other times it is not.

While George Orwell did not use the terms bounded or ecological rationality, he recognized these concepts at work in his day. His lovely little book “Why I Write” was written in England during World War II. While providing fascinating insight into why Orwell wrote what he did (“Animal Farm”, “1984” etac.), it is mostly a viciously insightful critique of the British socials ills that he believed led to its national predicament at that time – the British appeared on their way to losing a life and death struggle.

While I recommend the book for a variety of reasons, its utility for present purposes to point out an interesting parallel between the forces that according to Orwell were at the root of Britain’s perspective problems leading up to World War II, and those that currently plague Mormonism. For example, read the following passages, written by Orwell in the context above, as if they had been written by a Mormon intellectual who was fully conversant with the strengths and weaknesses of the institution that sponsors his faith, changing references:

· from “democracy” to “literalist Mormonism”;

· from “totalitarianism” to a religious tradition other than Mormonism that has a cultish;

· from England to “the Mormon Church”;

· from particular British leaders to particular Mormon leaders, etc.

And when Orwell speaks of stupidity, think instead of denial. Here we see a classic example of bounded rationality at work. All page references are to Orwell’s “Why I Write”.

“An illusion can become a half-truth, a mask can alter the expression of a face. The familiar arguments to the effect that democracy is “just the same as” or “just as bad as” totalitarianism never take account of this fact. All such arguments boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread. In England such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in. They may be illusions, but they are powerful illusions. … Even hypocrisy is a powerful safeguard. The hanging judge, that evil old man in scarlet robe and horse-hair wig, whom nothing short of dynamite will ever teach what century he is living in, but who will at any rate interpret the law according to the books and will in no circumstance take a money bribe, is on of the symbolic figures of England. He is a symbol of the strange mixture of reality and illusion, democracy and privilege, humbug and decency, the subtle network of compromises, by which the nation keeps itself in its familiar shape.” (pages 21, 22)

“In spite of the campaigns of a few thousand left-wingers [who are the intelligentsia of whom Orwell was part], it is fairly certain that the bulk of the English people were behind Chamberlain’s foreign policy [that played into Hitler’s hands, setting up what looked like a war headed for disaster]. More, it is fairly certain that the same struggle was going on in Chamberlain’s mind as in the minds of ordinary people. His opponents professed to see in him a dark and wily schemer, plotting to sell England to Hitler, but it is far likelier that he was mere a stupid old man doing his best according to his very dim lights. It is difficult to otherwise explain the contradictions of his policy, his failure to grasp any of the courses that were open to him. …” (page 28

“England is not the jewelled isle of Shakespeare’s much–quoted message, nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr. Goebbels. More than either it resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all it cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has rich relations who have to be kow-towed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family. It has its private language and it common memories, and at the approach of an enemy it closes its ranks. A family with the wrong members in control – that perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase. (page 30)

“One of the dominant facts in English life during the past three quarters of a century has been the decay of ability in the ruling class. … The existence of these people was by any standard unjustifiable. They were simply parasites, less useful to society than his fleas are to a dog.

By 1920 there many people who were aware of all this. By 1930 millions were aware of it. But the British ruling class obviously could not admit to themselves that their usefulness was at an end. Had they done that they would have had to abdicate. For it was not possible for them to turn themselves into mere bandits …After all, they belonged to a class with a certain tradition, they had been to public schools where the duty of dying for your country, if necessary, is laid down as the first and greatest of the Commandments. They had to feel themselves true patriots, even while they plundered their countrymen. Clearly there was only one escape for them – into stupidity. They could keep society in its existing shape only by being unable to grasp that any improvement was possible. Difficult though this was, they achieved it, largely by fixing their eyes on the past and refusing to notice the changes that were going on round them.” (pages 31 – 33)

“It is important not to misunderstand [the leaders] motives, or one cannot predict their actions. What is to be expected of them is not treachery, or physical cowardice, but stupidity, unconscious sabotage, an infallible instinct for doing the wrong thing. They are not wicked, or not altogether wicked; they are merely unteachable. Only when their money and power are gone will the younger among them begin to grasp what century they are living in.” (page 37)

“England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.” (page 40)

“It is clear that the special position of the English intellectuals ruing the past ten years, as purely negative creatures, mere anti-Blimps [the uneducated masses], was a by-product of the ruling-class stupidity. Society could not use [the intellectuals], and they had not got it in them to see that devotion to one’s country implies “for better, for worse”. Both Blimps and high-brows took for granted, as though it were a law of nature, the divorce between patriotism and intelligence. If you were a patriot you read Blackwood’s Magazine [a low-brow publication] and publicly thanked god that you were “not brainy”. … Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again. It is the fact that we are fighting a war, and a very peculiar war, that may make this possible.” (page 41)

That is, England’s ruling class was making decisions that made sense to them in the context of their historic dominance, understandable reluctance to give up power and influence, etc. And these decisions put the entire country at risk. Intellectuals were scorned because they called the established order into question. Among the “faithful” ignorance became a badge of honour. And if shown this situation in any other culture, the British of Orwell’s day and Mormons today would immediately recognize it as a recipe for disaster. Then, if confronted by the proposition that they were headed down precisely the same perilous path, they would distinguish their case from the other on grounds that would leave most knowledgeable outsiders shaking their heads in amazement at the depth of denial these mental gymnastics show.

The parallels between the British leaders in Orwell’s time and Mormonism’s leadership today are particularly striking. Their circumstances blind them to the reality of both their position and the effects of their actions. Time will tell how far Mormonism’s fortunes will have to decline before fundamental leadership change will occur.

In conclusion regarding bounded and ecological rationality, I note that it may well have been Christ’s observation of this universal human trait that prompted him to note that only those who had ears for his teachings would hear them.
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Reflections On Secular Anti-Mormonism
Friday, Feb 10, 2006, at 09:25 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Reflections on Secular Anti-Mormonism
by Daniel C. Peterson

DP: A prolific ex-Mormon now-atheist writer on Mormon historical topics, asked last week whether he was planning to attend this FAIR symposium, responded that, no, he wasn't.

bm: Those awful atheists! Peterson seems to believe that few slurs are more potent than this given the number of times he used it in this essay, and how he used it. I don't find the term to be useful and observe that it is mostly used by people like Peterson as a derogatory term rather than a way of communicating useful information about what someone else believes.

A "theist" is a person who believes in a god of some kind. An "atheist" is a person who does not so believe. But what kind of god are we talking about? Einstein referred to "god" as whatever caused the amazing reality he spent his life exploring. He said that this reality must have been created by an intelligence of such staggering magnitude that we cannot comprehend it and should reverence. However, he had no idea what kind of intelligence that might be or where it came from. It could have been a three line algorithm created by random chance, a nice old man with white hair, or who knows what. Was Einstein a theist (he believed in a god of some kind) or an atheist (he thought most of the ideas people have about god have an extremely high probability of being false)?

It is clear, however, that Einstein was uncertain as to about god's nature to such an extent that his idea of god would not be called god by most literalist religious people, and hence it is reasonable to say that he was agnostic (he did not know) about god. Hence, I would call him an agnostic instead of an atheist or theist. I use the same label for myself. I am agnostic regarding god. Or I am a non-theist. And many thoughtful people whom Peterson would call atheist because they don't believe in the kind of god he does, have beliefs similar to mine.

As an aside, I have found a great deal of wisdom in Einstein's writing related to the formation of culture and how his personal spirituality worked. I recommend in that regard:

And, by the way, how many people to whom society owes a great deal were agnostics, deists (a lot like agnostics) or full blown atheists? Many of America's founding fathers were somewhere between atheist and deist, for example. Many of our greatest scientists and social innovators have held similar views. And what about all of those Buddhists, Taoists, etc.? Pretty much all atheists.

It is unreasonable to suggest that lack of any particular religious belief denotes moral defect. In fact, it is worse than unreasonable. It is foolish and increasingly tending toward the unwise if not immoral in our highly interdependent world. It is this kind of tribalism that must be broken down in as many aspects of society as possible if we are to avoid the kinds of disasters that occurred on 9/11, the riots that are currently going on in the Muslim world as a result of a few religious cartoons published in Europe, and a host of other silly and/or dangerous things. Furthermore, the kind of ignorance Peterson trumpets is precisely what must be overcome as people around the globe digest the facts regarding their interconnectedness with each other, their dependence on the planet's limited resources, and the tremendous difficulties humanity faces as a result of a population that continues to grow and consume ever more resources.

DP: I will, as advertised, reflect on "secular anti-Mormonism." I'm grateful for the assignment because, frankly, anti-Mormonism of the evangelical kind has come, with a few exceptions, to bore me intensely. It's not only that it tends to be repetitious and uninteresting--I think I've mentioned here before the film that my friend Bill Hamblin and I have laughed about doing: Bill and Dan's Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell. It's not merely that the same arguments reappear ad nauseam, no matter how often they've been refuted, and that reviewing essentially the same book for the thirty-second time grows tiresome.

bm: "To refute" means to establish or prove that a proposition is false. While I don't think the Evangelicals come at Mormonism from the best perspective for the most part, I have read enough of Peterson, Hamblin and Midgely's responses to the Evangelical critique to know that most of the time they do little more than kick immense amounts of dust into the air for the purpose of showing that the Evangelicals have not quite pinned the Mormons to the mat on this or that point. To call what Peterson does in this regard "refutation" is offensive to anyone who understands the subject matter. However, he is likely convincing to the faithful Mormons who read this and assume on the basis of his hyperbole that there is nothing to be concerned about.

This reminds me of the FARMS reviews I read while still faithful of Todd Compton's book "In Sacred Loneliness". The book deals with the Joseph Smith' s plural marriages. FARMS tore the book apart. I had read a troubling review in a local newspaper, and heaved a sigh of relief when I saw that the scholars at BYU had panned it. Years later while beginning to investigate Mormonism using real scholarly sources I found Compton's rebuttal to the FARMS reviews, and felt ill. In a few minutes of reading Compton I realized that his approach was reasonable, and that I had been duped as a result of trusting FARMS and so not bothering to read Compton myself. See This approach, whether conscious or not, characterizes what I read in Peterson's work.

I do not suggest that Peterson is dishonest, just completely taken in by his point of view. People like him fascinate me, and before I could happily relegate Mormonism to the rear view window I needed to feel that I understood how smart, well-intentioned, kind people (and I presume Peterson is all of those) could do what they do on behalf of something so obviously false as Mormonism. While writing a number of lengthy essays on this topic I found that people like Peterson are common in most religions and other ideology based social groups. See for example.

Time and again as I made my way through Peterson's essay I was struck by his denial of probabilities. We can't be certain about anything in the historical or current world. However, some things are demonstrably more probable than others. The best strategy for any purpose where knowing what is real is important is to adopt the information most likely to be correct as time passes. Apologists like Peterson tend to do this as long as that information does not conflict with their faith, which requires them to start with certainty as to what is real in certain cases, and defend that position against any disconfirming information that comes along. I examine the pattern of belief that this causes in many social groups, including Mormonism, at

So, as you read below something Peterson has suggested to be a real state of human or physical affairs and I propose an alternative, ask yourself which is more likely to be a reasonable estimate of reality.

DP: (You've heard the definition of insanity as when you keep doing the same thing over and over and over again, and expect to get different results.) It's also the deep streak of intellectual dishonesty …

bm: That's it - accuse everyone else of intellectual dishonesty. That is probably what is going on. Don't look for patterns of similar behaviour in similar groups and use that to understand Mormons, post-Mormons and many other groups of similarly behaving people. Consider, as an alternative hypothesis for post-Mormon behavior (as well as Mormon apologist behaviour), denial of the sort I describe in my essays linked above. Or how about cognitive dissonance? Denial and cognitive dissonance apply to post-Mormons as well as Mormons and other groups of humans. Emotional and social "proofs" are also applicable to one group as much as to the other. Once you get beyond dishonesty and stupidity as the presumed causes of behaviour with which you disagree a lot of things make much more sense. Some Mormon behavior is irrational, and some post-Mormon behavior is irrational. If you to think in these terms, you have a chance to sort out error, in your camp as well as that of others, from accurate observation.

The greatest gift I have received as a result of my exodus from Mormonism is increased humility. That is, I am now prepared to admit that I not only may be wrong in many of my current positions, but that I most assuredly am. This teachability does wonderful things, as does the idea that reality is what it is. It does not have to be what anyone, no matter how old or presumably sacred or wise, said it is. It just is. The respected biologist John Maynard Smith expresses beautifully the consequence of adopting this point of view in his interview at, which is another fine source of useful big picture thinking.

DP: that runs through much of the countercult industry, the triumphalism that exaggerates and even invents problems on the Mormon side while effectively pretending that no problems remain to be addressed on the so-called "Christian" side.

bm: Peterson is being highly selective here. Many believing Christians apply the same scholarly standards to their own faith as to Mormonism. Throughout this essay, Peterson sets up straw men that will be recognized as such by most who are familiar with the relevant literature or phenomena. However, since his target audience is generally speaking ignorant of these things, many of them will find him persuasive when he says ridiculous things like this.

DP: (This couldn't possibly be more clearly illustrated than in recent evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant use of DNA data to cast doubt upon the Book of Mormon. In what can only be described as a display of either stunning ignorance or appalling cynicism, these anti-Mormon crusaders ignore the fact that the assumptions fundamental to current deep-historical DNA studies flatly contradict traditional and widely held conservative Protestant understandings of the book of Genesis.)

bm: As already noted, many believing Christians apply the same scholarly standards to their own faith as to Mormonism. But Peterson would likely disparage the faith of Christians of this type because they also tend not to be literalist believers in the Bible. And Peterson's assessment of the DNA research is laughable. This is classic apologistese. Even then-BYU microbiologist Scott Woodward is on record to the effect that the DNA case against the Book of Mormon is probably correct. However, it is not 100% certain. He did not mention that nothing in the empirical world is 100% certain.

DP: No, I'm quite content, for today at least, to concentrate on secular anti-Mormonism, which I often find much more interesting and intellectually challenging, and which, I'm coming to believe, constitutes the real locus of action in coming years.

bm: Not if Mormons are still trying to cozy up to the Evangelicals as Mormonism's traditional foundations, like the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's trustworthiness, continue to crumble.

DP: I will pass over very quickly a message board that I like to monitor that is, in its way, a kind of wildlife preserve for secular anti-Mormons.

bm: The Recovery from Mormonism message board to be found at [link removed] which I will refer to as "RFM". (NOTE FROM INFYMUS: Link Removed For Archive Purposes)

DP: Some of you are probably familiar with it. Although it is of unquestionable sociological and psychological interest, it offers little if anything of intellectual merit. What was once said of William Jennings Bryan could be said of even many of the star posters on this message board: "One could steer a schooner through any part of his argument and never scrape against a fact." Several, even, of the posters with the greatest intellectual pretensions on the board have consistently demonstrated themselves incapable of accurately summarizing Latter-day Saint positions and arguments, let alone of genuinely engaging them. It's hard not to think in this context of Groucho Marx: "From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down," Groucho wrote to the novelist Sydney Perelman, "I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend to read it." Many on this particular message board seem to be of the same mentality as the academic who was asked whether he had read the new book by Professor Jones. "Read it?" he replied. "Why, I haven't even reviewed it yet!"

bm: Hilarious! These people at RFM (including me I presume) are obviously not worth listening to in any way and are to be pitied. What fools! Let's not compare RFM to anything that would put it in context or help us to understand it. And particularly, let's not compare it to any of the many other Mormon related on-line communities that display ignorance, ill will and silliness of similar as well as other types.

So, what is RFM? First, it is not designed as a forum for intellectual discussion. It is supposed to be a safe place to vent, and a lot of venting occurs there. Venting is not pretty, and usually contains a lot of irrationality. See the essay on my website titled "Chaos and Forging the Self" for a summary of my take on RFM in general. Until posted there it can also be found at [link to RFM Removed]. However, despite RFM's lack of academic pretension, I have read some brilliant stuff there as well as a lot of silliness, funniness, pathos and humanity. And I can name a dozen people who are either successful practising lawyers, respected university professors and/or practising scientists who regularly post at RFM right now. I am sure there are many more of this type who post there and I have not had the chance to get to meet in real life.

As he does consistently throughout this essay, Peterson has here set up a straw man to knock down to the cheers of those who are generally unencumbered by the relevant facts and trust that he is telling them an accurate story. As you read remember that I am one of the ill-willed, blasphemous, idiots Peterson has described.

DP: What the board does offer are displays of bravado, strutting, believers' arguments completely misunderstood and misrepresented, bold challenges hurled out to those who are barred from responding, and guffaws of triumph over enemies who are not permitted to reply. Dissent is rigidly excluded from this board, even as its denizens criticize the Church for its supposed "repressiveness.

bm: As already noted, RFM is a place for venting and recovery, not argument. Many topics are verboten there, such as political discussion of all kinds. And there is a certain amount of exercise of questionable judgement about how things are done there, as is the case in all human groups. Many people who post at RFM go to many other places to engage in debate and find information. Should this be surprising?

DP: However, notwithstanding the rigorous exclusion of all troublesome dissent from their domain, the faith these posters have in their own unanswerably brilliant selves is oddly refreshing to see in atheists, whom you wouldn't expect to believe in any God at all.

bm: More Peterson hyperbole. More straw-men. As noted above, RFM is a recovery site. And is it reasonable to assume that what happens at RFM is the sole source of information for people who participate there or that just because a person vents (or does anything else) at RFM that they have personally subscribed to everything said there? And what does God have to do with this?

DP: Voltaire once explained that "My prayer to God is a very short one: 'Oh, Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' God," he said, "has granted it."

bm: Brilliant! Let's not mention that Voltaire was one of the leading atheists (shiver) of his day who spent much of his time skewering the silliness of people where were apologists for the Christian position, much like Peterson. Peterson is precisely the kind of person Voltaire likely had in mind while making this statement.

DP: But this doesn't exhaust the pleasures of that message board. It is rife with personal abuse and bloodcurdling hostility, not uncommonly obscene, directed against people they don't know and haven't even met--against President Hinckley, Joseph Smith, the Brethren, the general membership of the Church, and even, somewhat obsessively, against one particular rather insignificant BYU professor.

bm: And some there, like me, are regularly dismissive of what I call the "stupid, lying bastards" approach to Mormonism. This does not do the people or social psychological mechanisms involved near enough credit. However, a lot of post-Mormons lose their marriage, relationships with their kids and countless other important aspects of life as a result of what happens when the deceptive actions of Mormon leaders come to light. And there is lots of scientific research that shows how violent a response should be anticipated when we learn that even small scale deceptions have been practised on us. I wonder why emotions run so high when people find out that they have consistently through out their lives purposefully deceived by religious leaders in whom they vested almost complete trust?

DP: Ordinary members of the Church--Morgbots or Morons …

bm: This is often, in my experience, the result of the unhappy (or happy) way in which keys on computer keyboards are set up. I can't count the number of times I have typed "Moron" while trying to type "Mormon" and have had to correct it. Believers in gods who disagree with the Mormon god may find in this a divine sign instead of the comic coincidence I see.

DP: or Sheeple, in the jargon of the board--are routinely stereotyped as insane, tyrannical, cheap, bigoted, ill-mannered, irrational, sexually repressed, stupid, greedy, foolish, rude, poor tippers, sick, brain-dead, and uncultured. There was once even a thread--and I'm not making this up--devoted to discussing how Mormons noisily slurp their soup in restaurants.

bm: Go read some posts at any of many LDS bulletin boards and you will find similar displays of ignorance and inanity.

DP: Posts frequently lament the stupidity and gullibility of Church leaders, neighbors, parents, spouses, siblings, and even offspring …

bm: Much of this is reasonably accurate.

DP: --who may be wholly unaware of the anonymous poster's secret double life of contemptuous disbelief.

bm: And what is the penalty in most Mormon communities for disclosing that kind of disbelief? And there is nothing of secrecy or information suppression within Mormonism, is there? I wonder where this tendency toward secrecy and suppression of information comes?

DP: It is a splendid cyber illustration of the finger pointing and mocking found in the "great and spacious building" of 1 Nephi.

bm: One of the many ironies in this circus piece is that Peterson does not see how that metaphor can be used the other way. In Utah particularly, those who stand up and publicly dissent from Mormonism are often mocked in various ways by those who control the great and spacious buildings that literally as well as metaphorically dominate Mormonism.

DP: Whenever the poisonous culture of the place is criticized, however, its defenders take refuge in the culture of victimhood, deploying a supposed need for therapeutic self-expression as their all-encompassing excuse.

bm: There is a lot more to it that that, and I don't know anyone who I consider thoughtful who would gives RFM top grades in all important categories. But there is some justification to the recovery approach.

I disagree with some aspects of the Alcoholics Anonymous program and philosophy, but would I be justified in going into an AA meeting and starting to debate my concerns with the people there who are struggling to put their lives back together? That is what people like Peterson have been shown to do time and again if given the chance at RFM. That he does not consider Mormonism to be a problem from which one needs to recover would put him in the same class as those alcohol vendors who say the same thing about alcohol. That kind of person, for good reason, would be barred from AA meetings.

I have no problem with the designation of a safe place where those who are critical of Mormonism can vent in peace and recover perspective and the security that goes with it (see Lee Kirkpatrick, "Attachment, Evolution and the Psychology of Religion"). Active Mormons have dozens of similar bulletin boards not to mention their meeting houses. And when you check out communities of people who have left or who dissent from other religious groups, you find much the same kind of thing.

We see here again Peterson's penchant for exaggeration and his attempt to present RFM and those who spend time there as particularly evil rather than looking for ways to understand RFM by looking for parallels in other groups. This is understandable given Peterson's apparent objective - to warn members of the Mormon community away from those inhuman beings at RFM. The is a lot of social psych literature along these lines (see Elliott Aronson, "The Social Animal" for example). We tend to dehumanize those we wish to justify ignoring or treating badly.

DP: Contemplating a depressing number of the posters on that board, I've thought to myself, "If this is what liberation from the Mormon 'myth' makes you--a vulgar and sometimes duplicitous crank, cackling with malice and spite--then I would prefer to spend the few brief years left to me (before I dissolve into the irreversible and never-ending oblivion many of the board's posters prophesy for me and all humankind) with people who haven't been liberated.

bm: Beautiful! What a move! Two birds with one stone! He nailed those terrible atheists again, while suggesting that people who leave Mormonism and spend time at RFM are scum!

DP: I think of the apostates of Ammonihah, mocking Alma and Amulek in prison, "gnashing their teeth upon them, and spitting upon them, and saying: How shall we look when we are damned?"1 Surely the damned will not look much different than this.

bm: This is wonderful. I could not have written a better foil myself. For the second time in a few paragraphs Peterson refers to a Book of Mormon passage as if it described a real event that could be used to shed light on other real events. Without attempting the kind of useful contextual analysis that Craig Criddle provides at, let me make a few quick points of a similar nature.

If you were starting a new religion that would of course be small and likely to attract a lot of negative attention from other social groups, wouldn't it be great if you found some scripture that showed how God's plan included this kind of thing and it was predicted to recur in your case (the great and spacious building), but that anyone who disagreed with you would ultimately meet with terrible life events? And better yet, what if this scripture predicted that someone with your name would be the leader of this new religion? That would be too good to be true, right? Oh, and why not in God's name predict that when people found out that you were misleading them or maybe even trying to have sex with their wives or daughters that, that they would get really mad and try to prevent you from continuing to do that to other people?

So Peterson, after characterizing everyone at RFM in the worst possible way, uses a fantasy from the Book of Mormon in an attempt to legitimize his RFM fantasy. Two fantasies = one reality?

And if you good Mormons wish to avoid the pain all of those people at RFM suffer, you'd best not spend any time at RFM … And don't acknowledge that anyone who left Mormonism or changed their belief regarding God was ever happy about that choice. Don't refer to people like Robert Ingersol, for example (see at page 80. Etc. This is wonderful stuff.

DP: But I'm troubled by the capacity even of far less malevolent message boards to supply a supportive sort of ersatz community as an alternative to the fellowship of the Saints, and I worry about what participation on even relatively benign boards does to some Latter-day Saint souls. I have in mind one frequent poster in particular, who claims simply to be doubting and troubled, but who in fact never misses an opportunity for a snide remark about his Church, in which he remains active, and its teachings. These teachings involve weighty matters of utmost import. Millions have placed their hopes in the gospel's message, and, if this were false, it would be tragic and unutterably sad. Perhaps the cynicism that this poster and many others cultivate is no more than a psychologically understandable defensive shell, a self-protective whistling past the graveyard of doubt. But, even so, it is a shell that will, I fear, block the Spirit.

bm: I wonder if all forms of doubt block the access the Spirit presumably gives us to a greater reality? That seems implied. Since Peterson's spiritual leaders have all the answers, we need do nothing more than obey them. How comforting, and is there any idea that is older than this one? Just get in line and obey. Stop questioning and doubting.

DP: I am not optimistic about his long-term prospects, barring a fundamental shift in attitude (and, even less hopefully, perhaps in personality).

bm: Well, it looks like Peterson has buried RFM now, so I will give a brief description of the place myself. You judge whether his or mine makes the most sense.

There is a great deal of evidence that justifies the perception that many Mormons have been systematically deceived throughout their lives by well-intended religious leaders and family members. Whether this perception is right or wrong, those who come to have it should be expected to suffer serious trauma. The DSM-IV (used to diagnose psychiatric illness) has a category that deals with this. See This type of trauma is experienced by a wide of range of people who come to regard their views with regard to religion as inaccurate and suffer a loss of relationships and other forms of security and/or self identity as a result. And there is a lot of literature about how to deal with/heal from this kind of trauma. Most of this recommends something along the lines of the well-known Kubler-Ross grieving process (see ss.htm). Expressing anger is one aspect of this process. And people tend to pass through it and move on.

People tend to visit RFM often for a period of months and perhaps for as long as a couple of years, and then move on. While at RFM these people form a complex human community that includes idiots, savants, socializers, clowns, scientists, philosophers, bullies, babies, etc. As I said, it is a diverse human community, and has the strengths and weaknesses one should expect from such.

DP: Characteristic of much secularizing anti-Mormon participation on the Web is a corrosive cynicism that, in my experience, will erode anything with which it comes in contact.

bm: Are we talking about the same cynicism that led to the Renaissance, Enlightenment, American Revolution, etc. or some other kind? My guess is that Peterson welcomes cynicism that overturns blind obedience in old Catholicism, the Divine Right of Kings, the Muslim faith, etc. but wants to attack cynicism that questions any of his dogmas. Let's see how this plays out.

DP: It is not so much a reasoned intellectual stance as an attitude, or even, perhaps, a personality type. Those afflicted with such cynicism are like the dwarfs in the last book of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, who are, as Aslan expresses it, so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. Such people claim to know the price of everything and everyone, but they seem to recognize the value of nothing. But the problem may well be in the cynic rather than in the object of his scorn. "No man," as the French saying goes, "is a hero to his valet."2 Why? The German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel is surely right when he responds: "This is not because the hero is no hero, but because the valet is a valet."3

bm: Nice. Let's again dehumanize those who disagree with us instead of looking for patterns in history and the social science literature that might help to explain persistent patterns of disagreement among groups of people. See

DP: A more interesting form of secular anti-Mormonism springs out of, or at least is related to, elite European secularism generally.

Some years ago, with time on my hands following the close of an academic gathering in Graz, Austria, I spent the better part of a day looking through the city's bookstores. The dollar being weak, prices being high, and my luggage being cramped, I did much more looking and browsing than buying. I soon discovered an extraordinarily interesting topic: The treatment of Mormonism in travel books published for America-bound Europeans. Since then, I've enjoyed many similar books in French and Italian bookstores as well as across Germanic Europe. Almost uniformly, the tone is one of astonishment--subtly expressed or, often, quite open--at the stupidity and gullibility of the Latter-day Saints. Additionally, Mormon history and doctrine are plainly deemed too patently absurd to justify much effort at accuracy.

bm: Are we surprised at this? Are travel books known for their depth and accuracy? Or are we to believe that Mormonism is subject to a conspiracy by those who write these books?

DP: But Mormons represent merely an opportunity for a more general European attitude to focus on a particularly ludicrous target. In a recent book attempting to explain the American mind to bemused German-speakers, Professor Hans-Dieter Gelfert observes that,

"To Europeans, American religiosity must necessarily seem naïve, if not primitive. Here [in Germany], educated people are assisted, above all, by enlightened [aufgeklärte] theologians who reinterpret Christian teaching as an ethical doctrine suited for the everyday, but at the same time philosophically abstract. In the meanwhile, there are pastors who believe that they can get by altogether without mentioning God's name. It's completely different in America, where the Bible is still the Word of God."4

bm: Again, is this news? See for a University of Michigan produced summary of where the US fits into the world picture in terms of secular v. religious values. Americans should be expected to appear Neanderthal to Europeans.

DP: According to Phil Zuckerman, of Pitzer College, rates of agnosticism or atheism in Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, and France reach levels higher than fifty percent.5 There and elsewhere, underused churches are being converted into concert halls, museums, art galleries, stores, restaurants, condos, even nightclubs. In Scandinavia, for some reason, it is popular to transform churches into carpet stores.6 It is well known that the late Pope John Paul II believed that the future of Catholicism lay not in spiritually dying Europe, but to the south, in Latin America and, perhaps even more so, in Africa. Benedict XVI appears to share that view, with reason.

bm: More news?

DP: "In the eyes of many if not most Europeans," Professor Gelfert observes, "American taste is equivalent to tastelessness."7 (One is tempted to suggest that, given their own still relatively recent history of something rather worse than poor taste, a bit of humility might be in order for the Germans, at least. And I say this as something of a Germanophile.) Thus, European disdain for American religiosity functions as part of a broader contempt for American culture, nicely embodied, as a surprisingly large number of residents of both the Continent and the British Isles see it, in our religious fanatic cowboy president. And what could be more American than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known for its freshly-scrubbed, naïve, nineteen-year-old missionaries, hailing mostly from the American West?

bm: That is correct. Americans in general are seen in Europe as naïve and silly, and Mormons particularly so. This has been the case since near Mormonism's beginnings.

DP: Anti-Mormonism in Europe is overwhelmingly of the secular variety; evangelical anti-Mormonism, on the whole, is no more than a minor irritant because the same general European secularism that directly challenges missionary success on the continent and in the British Isles also confronts and hampers our evangelical friends. But secularist anti-Mormonism is doing real damage to many fragile testimonies there, and an adequate response has still not materialized. This is a challenge that apologists in Europe itself but also in the Church's American home base urgently need to address.

bm: Europeans regard Mormonism as merely another indication of America's tendency toward magical thinking. America's infatuation with various forms of New Age belief is another symptom of the same thing (see for example), as is Young Earth creationism, the popularity of alien abductionist beliefs and a variety of other things in America. And the same kind of arguments are mustered in defence of each of these points of view by people like Peterson.

DP: [Peterson summarizes material to indicate that an increasing divide is visible between America's elite (secular) and regular (religious/magical thinking) populations. Then he says:]

In a recent magazine article, Joel Kotkin, an incisive observer of social trends, supplies a nice, concrete example:

When Fargo, North Dakota, businessman Howard Dahl boards a plane for the East Coast or flies to Europe and beyond, he is often struck by the views of the people he encounters, especially their preconceptions about his part of the country. "There's a lot of condescension. You'd think no one here ever read a book," Dahl says, "or ever had a thought about anything. They think we're religious fanatics." 8

bm: This condescension is regrettable, but understandable. There are many well-educated people in the US mid-west and west whose views are similar to those of well-educated people in New York, Paris or London. And there are a surprising number like Peterson. He is well-educated. He has read a lot of books, as he is demonstrating in this essay. And he is well-travelled, as he is also at pains to let his readers know. This man is a citizen of the world. And most well educated Europeans would regard him as hopefully parochial not as a result of what he has not read or not seen, but as a result of what he has absorbed from his experience as demonstrated by what he writes. As Einstein said, the theory we accept determines what we see.

DP: How much more so, then, Salt Lake City? Since, as studies have shown, journalists strongly tend, on the whole, to be secular, politically liberal, anti-corporate, and socially and morally "progressive," Mormonism constitutes a perfect target. They will be naturally antipathetic to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a church that is widely regarded as socially retrograde, politically conservative, and hierarchically corporate.

bm: Yup.

DP: "Still today," writes Hans-Dieter Gelfert,

"Americans promote a striking hero cult with regard to the great figures of their history. In England, a tendency to dismantle onetime heroes set in after the First World War, with Lytton Strachey's book Eminent Victorians (1918). The same thing happened in Germany after the Second World War. Whenever, among us, an article appears in Spiegel about a once-revered heroic figure from German history, one can just about wager that this person will have lost his luster thereafter."9

In this regard, American journalism seems very, very European. Since the days of Woodward and Bernstein and Watergate, it has tended to be adversarial, very often operating on the presumption of a guilty cover-up. What could be a more inviting target for contemporary journalists than a corporate church with a highly controversial, very visible, and widely documented history, wielding considerable economic power, and claims to be led by living prophets and apostles? It's heroes and valets, all over again.

bm: Let's see. We've got a prophet who purports to speak for god; who lies about his sexual activities; who controls his church and city through secret quorums; who runs for the US presidency; who has himself ordained King of the Earth; who smashes printing presses that are about to publicize what he is up to; etc. Why would any journalist want to write about that?

And against the odds, one branch of the church he forms becomes a vastly wealthy asset holding corporation estimated to rank at about no. 200 on the Fortune 500 list of the worlds largest business corporation were it in that category, that exercises political and cultural influence in the US in a manner that many people elsewhere find both disturbing and discouraging. Not newsworthy?

Or how about the habit leaders of this organization still exhibit of deceiving those who deal with them both by silence and by the publication of clearly deceptive accounts of their own history? How about their history of lying in public (including before federal government committees in the US) and justifying this on the basis that protecting the power that backs up their alleged divine mandate requires them to wield justifies these deceptions? None of this is newsworthy?

And to cut off an argument I often hear Mormons make, the Mormon Church's wealth has nothing to do with truth. The Catholic Church is incredibly wealthy. Quakers controlled huge assets bases at one time. Lots of other examples can be given to support this point. You get money by doing the things that get money. Telling a story that will persuade people to give you money is one of those. Mormonism's wealth is no more indicative of the truth of its message than is Amway's. In fact, there are many parallels between those two organizations.

DP: The prominent Pennsylvania State historian of religion Philip Jenkins, commenting on secularism among political and social liberals, notes

"a rich vein of bilious anti-clericalism, that class-based contempt that imagines every pastor as Elmer Gantry, every believer as a budding recruit for the Christian Taliban, and every Catholic as a mind-manacled helot of a pederastic priesthood. This tendency reached its apex at the [Democratic] party's 1992 convention, at which liberal and pro-labor Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey was excluded from the rostrum because of his opposition to abortion, while feminists handed out badges caricaturing Casey in papal robes."10

Amusingly, every element of the attitude toward mainstream Christianity mentioned by Jenkins, down to the very language, can be paralleled--indeed, finds almost daily parallels--on my laboratory message board with regard to Mormonism.

bm: Oh oh. Back to RFM.

DP: But this attitude isn't confined merely to the fever swamps of Web bigotry

bm: Ouch! More insightful, helpful analysis.

DP: In an article published as recently as 15 July 2005, in a New Zealand periodical but evidently also many other venues, the American leftist journalist Suzan Mazur, reporting on the corporate machinations of us Mormon theofascists, even included purported illustrations of the Latter-day Saint endowment ceremony. They were reproduced from that essential and utterly reliable 1882 classic, J.H. Beadle's Polygamy or the Mysteries and Crimes of Mormonism, and were accurate right down to details like the bishop's miters--clearly modeled on the popes' hat--worn by temple officiators.11 (To those who have actually attended the temple yet seen no such garb and no such rituals, Mr. Beadle might well say, with apologies once more to Groucho Marx, "Who are you gonna believe? Me, or your lying eyes?")

bm: So, let me get this straight. The Democratic national convention in the US, New Zealand newspapers and the American press see things pretty much the same way? And we have already dealt with the godless Europeans. This must mean that the good Mormons are pretty much surrounded. Are they an island of goodness floating in an evil world? Or maybe Peterson exaggerates. And maybe if so many people do think the Mormon worldview is unjustified, Mormons should take a hard look in the mirror. Sounds like someone might be spending a lot of energy arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I almost forgot - history tells that when almost everyone things the claims of a religion are silly, those claims are usually proven true eventually. Right? And the truth claims of a religion do not change over time in light of secular/scientific findings. Right? And Mormon truth claims have not changed over time. Right? Whew! I thought I was in hot water for a second there.

As an aside, see James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds" for a summary of how to tell a crowd that is likely to give us accurate advice from one will not. In a nutshell, the more diverse, independent and well-informed a crowd is, the more seriously we should take its judgement. Compare the Mormon crowd to the crowd of non-Mormon academics who study Mormonism in this regard. Which is more likely to render accurate opinions on questions like "was Joseph Smith trustworthy?".

"But," many Mormons are likely to say, "the scholars don't have the Spirit and so we can ignore what they say" or some other excuse ("these are spiritual not intellectual matters") will be offered to justify dismissing all opposing points of view. And the fact that this is how countless religions (many of whom now seem laughable) have defended themselves since at least the Ancient Greeks does not matter to those who wraps themselves in these flimsy arguments now.

DP: Agnosticism or atheism is the default setting in most circles of elite opinion, in the United States nearly as much as Europe.

bm: Those elites. They usually do not know what they are doing. Particularly the scientists and other scholars. Intellectual pride causes this, as well as most of what makes our society the wonderful place it is to live. Go figure.

DP: To an extent, secular anti-Mormonism is merely an illustration, or even an echo, of that broader phenomenon.

bm: I would say that secular anti-Mormonism is such a small ripple in a huge current that it hardly matters. One of the few things that make it interesting for anyone other than the Mormons affected by it is that what most Christians went through generations ago Mormons are going through now as a result of having been until recently enclosed so effectively that they did not know what the rest of the world was doing. And then the Internet blew the doors off the cloister.

DP: An important articulation of this view is the British philosopher Antony Flew's essay "The Presumption of Atheism"12--though I note with considerable satisfaction that Professor Flew, probably the most vocally atheistic English-speaking philosopher since the death of Bertrand Russell in early 1970, recently announced that, compelled by what he sees as evidence for intelligent fine-tuning in the universe, he has abandoned his atheism and come to embrace a form of deism.

bm: But don't define deism (see or mention that it is merely atheism-lite. I am a deist or close to it because I revere whatever caused the universe, but I have no idea what it was (three line algorithm caused by chance, an old white haired guy or a pink unicorn) and I don't believe that whatever it is (if it is) has any idea about me.

DP: Some non-theists are rather passive about their unbelief--one wit recently coined the term apatheism to describe the indifference to religion and religious issues that he regards as a distinguishing mark of modern intelligence--but some are extremely aggressive, even if they rarely descend to the crudity of the message board that is my preferred research location for field studies in intellectual pathology.

bm: He can't seem to get enough of bashing RFM - someone there must have really gotten under his skin. But to give credit where it is due, I note that I like the term "apatheism". That describes many of my friends. They can't get worked up about religion in any way. That was Grandma's issue; Grandma's world. There are so many other things worth thinking about now, like how do we get the Earth's population under control and learn to live within the constraints of its environment.

DP: It is not uncommon, for example, to hear and read references to faith as "religious insanity."13 "Religiosity," said the psychologist Albert Ellis,

"is in many respects equivalent to irrational thinking and emotional disturbance. ... The elegant therapeutic solution to emotional problems is to be quite unreligious. ... The less religious they are, the more emotionally healthy they will be."14

bm: Amen, as far as literalist religion (like most of Mormonism) is concerned. But I think the metaphoric use of religious concepts has a great deal to commend it. See Karen Armstrong "A Short History of Myth" for example.

DP: In this, Ellis was only following the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Religion, Freud wrote, is "the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity."15

"Religion imposes equally on everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from suffering. The technique consists of depressing the value of life and distorting the picture of the real world in a delusional manner. . . . At this price forcibly fixing them in a state of psychical infantilism and by drawing them into a mass-delusion, religion succeeds in sparing many people an individual neurosis. But hardly anything more."16

bm: For more recent and reasonable views, see Lee Kirkpatrick, "Attachment, Evolution and the Psychology of Religion", or Pascal Boyer, "Religion Explained", or Loyal Rue, "Religion is not About God".

DP: This is more sophisticated than the description of "Morgbots" given in my message board laboratory, but its general content is remarkably similar.

bm: So, Freud is as bad as those evil people who post at RFM? Or are they as bad as Freud? What about all of the other psychologists and psychiatrists? Remember, the DSM - IV provides for the diagnosis of a clinical disorder related to the stress of leaving religions precisely like Mormonism. The evil circle widens.

DP: Yet it is demonstrably wrong. The data rather consistently demonstrate that Latter-day Saints who live lives consistent with their religious beliefs experience greater general well-being, greater family and marital stability, less delinquency, less depression, less anxiety, and less substance abuse than those who do not, and there is very little evidence that religious belief and practice are harmful to mental health.17

bm: That is lovely. Refer to the studies that support your point, but do not mention the mountain of data that questions them. Duwayne Anderson, for example, has debunked many of the statistics Peterson references (The only data of his I could quickly google is found at in the form of an audio file). And what about the stats re. Utah in general? It leads the US in various unflattering categories, like anti-depressant use, personal bankruptcies, some kinds of fraud, some kinds of spousal abuse, some kinds of sexual abuse, some kinds of suicide. And attempts by Mormons to show that active Mormons do not suffer from these problems are either flawed, or raise another serious question - what is it about living cheek to jowl with active Mormons that sends these statistics into the stratosphere for everyone else, because if active Mormons are not affected that means the incidence of these problems for non-Mormons and less active Mormons in Utah are astounding.

DP: As James R. Lewis argues in his 2003 book Legitimating New Religions, "attacks on alternative religious groups are attempts to psychologize--medicalize--a controversy that, on deeper examination, is clearly a controversy over ideology and lifestyle"18 In language that cannot possibly fail to remind Latter-day Saints of evangelical anti-Mormonism but that, oddly, forms a point of contact with the most virulent forms of secular anti-Mormonism as well, Thomas Langham, reviewing Lewis's book for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, remarks that

opponents of new religious movements have worked to delegitimate them through acting as 'moral entrepeneurs' who have used anti-cult ideologies to market negative stereotypes, like the 'cult' label, to the broader community. Such activities have led new religious be classified as illegitimate "dangerous organizations."19

bm: This is delicious. Some new religious/cults are dangerous. And those who recruit are highly disruptive to the families of many of their recruits so it stands to reason that they will be resisted. And these are among the most emotional issues known to humankind (kids being distanced from parents; marriages being broken up; etc.) so we should expect the rhetoric used to be extreme.

Now, turn this around and see how it applies to Peterson's inhuman caricature of the people at RFM. There we have REALLY dangerous people who the good Mormons should stay away from at all costs.

DP: Yet, Lewis says,

it is not self-evident that secularism should be the standard by which religion is evaluated. ... [A] humanistic methodology...should attempt to describe religionists as acting out of reasonable motives rather than from errors of judgment or psychopathology.20

bm: I agree. That is what I try to do. Perhaps Peterson could try that with RFM and other aspects of the post-Mormon movement.

DP: In fact, as is increasingly recognized nowadays, religious people tend to be healthier, not only mentally but even physically, than their irreligious counterparts.

bm: Let's cast the net a little broader. Are Buddhist and Taoists irreligious? They are atheists. And yet psychologists are finding that the ways of life embedded in the practises that come from these traditions are particularly healthy for today's westerners. See Martin Seligman "Authentic Happiness" and Marvin Levine, "The Positive Psychology of Buddhism and Yoga".

To make sense, Peterson should define which kind of atheists he is talking about before making comparisons. Anderson (see above) used this technique over and again to show how the Mormon use of statistics uses a comparison point that skews perception. One he did not mention was the oft cited statistic that Mormon missionaries are safer while on their missions than 19-21 year old men generally. This is used to make people feel better when missionaries die or are severely injured while serving their missions. I have not chased this down yet, but I am willing to bet that the "19-21 year old men generally" category does not take into account the fact that we are comparing Mormon missionaries whose alternative would likely be university somewhere in the US west or mid-west to a Mormon mission. That is, most deaths in this age group occur in urban ghettos, where you are unlikely to find young men who would otherwise be serving Mormon missions. When you compare apples to apples, I would be astounded if the death and serious injury rate for Mormon missionaries was not higher than for the reference group.

DP: With specific regard to Mormons, Utah death rates are below rates in the nation at large and in the mountain states for most major causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease, accidents, pulmonary disease, pneumonia/flu, diabetes, liver disease, and atherosclerosis. Utah suicide rates are higher than the national average, but lower than the mountain states as a whole. Studies of specific LDS populations in California, Utah, and Alberta, Canada, show that LDS men are about half as likely to die of cancer as other men. LDS women also have lower cancer mortality, but the difference is not as great as for men. Death rates are lower for Latter-day Saints who have higher levels of religious participation. In short, adherence to the Mormon code of health appears to lower death rates from several diseases.21 The benighted Morgbots seem to be doing rather well.

bm: See my comments above.

DP: But what of the atheists and the agnostics? Let's take a look at another laboratory: contemporary Europe, which has not altogether unfairly been called a "godless continent." Europe is in a state not only of demographic but, arguably, of cultural barrenness …

bm: Europe is uncultured compared to what? Utah? Peterson has an unusual definition of culture as well as rationality. I suppose that I should not be surprised. Mormons have long believed that they would become cultural lights to the world, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary. See "What is the Challenge for LDS Scholars and Artists", John and Kirsten Rector, Dialogue, Vol. 36, No. 2, Summer 2003, and

DP: , and it is certainly afflicted, these days, with a profound historical amnesia: Thucydides and the Enlightenment are mentioned in the preamble to the new European constitution as constituents of European identity--but not Christianity.

bm: See the U of Michigan studies above. We don't need Christianity or any other religion as a moral compass. There is a huge mass of social science literature to this effect. I can tell numerous stories of agnostics/atheists who I know personally and who live exemplary lives. One is a brain surgeon who spends one third of his time working for free each year in the Amazon jungle. This guy is smart, fun to be with, full of life, the kind of person most people want to be near because he emanates a feeling of love and good will. Sounds a lot like "the Spirit", doesn't it. Probably just Satan deceiving us, right?

However, a metaphoric Christianity could be helpful. I buy into Gould's "non-overlapping magisterial ("NOMA") concept, to a degree. See

DP: A striking drop has occurred in European birth and marriage rates, which Pitzer College's Phil Zuckerman connects with the equally striking decline in religious belief. "Religion," he says,

"seems to be critical to people's decision to raise children. People in these advanced industrial societies see children more and more as a liability. Some realize that this life is better without children. And you don't even need to get married since there is no legal advantage to doing so."

bm: Peterson might want to bone up on some population science. This is arguably the planet's most critical issue right now, and he is lamenting a decline in birth rates? This is Mormon ignorance in full flower.

DP: But Zuckerman, who is himself professedly anti-religious, is alarmed at the contrast of the low European birthrate with the high birthrates of the rapidly growing Muslim minorities within Europe. Muslims already make up at least a quarter of the residents of Rotterdam, Marseilles, and Malmö, Sweden, and fifteen percent of the residents of Brussels, the capital of the European Union. Within the next few decades, several European cities will acquire Muslim majorities.22 Observers have begun to speak of "Eurabia," and "Europistan." Others have alluded to what seems to be a "collective death wish" among Europeans, as their birth rates have fallen below levels required simply to replace themselves.

bm: Hmmm. The Muslim countries take religion very seriously, even more so that the US. And they have huge birth rates and an aversion to scientific knowledge that contradicts their beliefs, similar to religious people in US. This issue is of great concern to population scientists. Peterson has obviously seen this data, but it has not penetrated him.

DP: During a trip to England a few years ago, I went beyond my accustomed haunts into certain relatively nondescript parts of the country. While I've long been accustomed to the large Muslim population of London, I was astonished to see halal butcher shops and Muslim garb in the most ordinary towns--everywhere.

bm: Low growth areas allow immigration from high growth areas in order to keep the low growth area economies going and for other reasons. This incidentally helps to educate the Muslim populace, which for the moment may be our best hope to change the way that culture thinks. How is this bad?

DP: Immediately after his assassination a few years ago, the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was portrayed in the media as anti-immigration, which was true. But he was also portrayed as right-wing, which was false. The reality was considerably more interesting than initial stereotypes suggested: He was, in fact, a man of the left, and a practicing homosexual, who feared that the demographic ascendancy of scarcely assimilated conservative Muslims in his country would doom the ultra-free sexuality that he and many others value as essential to the culture of the modern Netherlands. And, surely, the recent murder of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh on a midday street in Amsterdam by a Dutch Muslim, and the very recent London bombings carried out by British Muslims, seem to bear out his worries. "The best lack all conviction," wrote the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, "while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

But, of course, however much she may wish she could, and however clearly she may see the benefits of belief, an unbeliever probably can't, in most cases, simply will herself to believe. It doesn't work that way.

One vocal ex-Mormon critic explained at the most recent Sunstone symposium that it was a specific case of God's apparent failure to intervene to prevent evil that, rather suddenly, killed his faith. I take him at his word. I find his reaction plausible, even understandable, and see his subsequent arguments against Mormonism as derivative from that initial conclusion, which serves as their presupposition.

bm: Or how about this. There is no god, or perhaps a deistic god. Who can tell? But here is what we can say with a high probability of being correct. Really bad things happen on a regular basis. And, our individual and collective choices determine the kind of society in which we and our children will live. We have plenty of reason for moral behavior, to keep our promises, be faithful to our spouses, etc. on this basis alone. And the social psych literature shows that our behaviour, regardless of religious belief, tends in this direction. We also have plenty of reason to simply enjoy life as it presents itself to us each day.

DP: But, here, an observation needs to be made: If, as in this case, the unbeliever's loss of faith stems from what she might well regard and characterize as a particular, almost revelatory, realization, then whatever arguments she puts forward afterward will be, to some degree or other, ad hoc, designed--no less than those of apologists for belief--to support a paradigm that was actually chosen on different grounds.

bm: Huh? I must not be smart enough to follow this. Peterson will at least agree with me on this point.

DP: Dan Vogel's take on the Witnesses, for example, strikes me as embarrassingly strained and almost desperate. From his presupposed atheistic …

bm: How awful he must be!

DP: point of view, however--having conceded that the Witnesses were both sane and sincere, but still unwilling to grant the accuracy of their statements--it is necessary, almost unavoidable, that he explain them away as nineteenth century visionaries to some extent culturally incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality.

bm: I haven't read Vogel on this point. But how about this. The early 1800s were lousy with people who saw visions that supported the truth claims of various religions. Angelic visitations were common. Affidavits were sworn to this effect. Martin Harris (I think - I am going from memory here) eventually testified to the legitimacy of some of Strang's heavenly visitations.

Were only Smith's "revelations" valid? If so, how do we distinguish his from the rest? Of if they were all of the same kind, how do we explain them? There are plenty of scholars, staring with William James ("The Varieties of Religious Experience") and including more recently people like the neurologist Andrew Newberg (himself a deeply religions person with whom I spent a week last summer) ("Why God Won't Go Away") who do this nicely. The bottom line is that there are many explanations for this kind of experience that do not require a belief that what is reported to us really happened. See the section on "spiritual experience" at staring at page 101.

DP: It's a matter of what are sometimes termed "prior probabilities." As Sherlock Holmes said to Dr. Watson, "First, you eliminate the impossible, and then whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth."

bm: Prior probabilities is one of the keys to Bayesian probability theory, generally regarded, along with scientific investigation, to give us our most reliable understanding of what is real. It has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes.

DP: The problem of evil itself--so lethal to the faith of that Sunstone atheist--will serve as an illustration of how paradigms and prior probabilities function in these matters. To an agnostic or an atheist, someone who assigns a very low probability (or even none at all) to the existence of God, the existence of massive human and natural evils in this world constitutes a serious and perhaps fatal, if not merely redundant, blow against theistic belief.

bm: That depends entirely on the kid of god one worships. Deists, for example, have no problem with this. I have no trouble with it.

DP: To someone, however, who regards the existence of a benevolent and powerful God as probable, even highly probable or certain, on other grounds, the existence of such massive evils represents merely a problem to be worked out in the light of her theistic presuppositions. Her proposed solutions will seem gratuitously ad hoc to atheistic critics, but, from within her paradigm, function much the same way as refinements to broad scientific theories function under the stimulus of new data and problems.

bm: One of the many problems with that position is that is can be used to defend anything. It does not give uncertainty its due. See the essay at for more on this point.

Why should we believe in the Mormon God instead of the Muslim God or the God of a pygmy tribe in the Amazon? Each is equally defensible, as well as indefensible. And there is more evidence of alien abductions than for any of these gods. Once we accept as probative of reality the feelings on which religious faith is based, we can prove anything and hence nothing.

DP: Similarly, defenders of the Book of Mormon are sometimes accused of ad hoc improvisations when, from their point of view, they are merely refining and making more precise a paradigm that they regard as reasonable and supportable on other grounds.

bm: I presume this to be a reference to the "limited geography" theory of the Book of Mormon. Or how about that paragon of logic and probability, the "two Cumorahs" theory? These theories tend to only be attractive to those who have deep seated social and other needs to believe. Mormon scientists have indicated that the limited geography theory and the Mormon response to the DNA research of people like Southerton (see is improbable. The best Mormons can do on this front with justification is to say that the case against them has not been proved with 100% certainty. The Young Earth Creationists, holocaust deniers, alien abductionists and countless others Mormons regard to be cranks have long used precisely the same defence for their points of faith. This runs back at least as far as the ancients Greeks (see

DP: However, as I've tried to illustrate, such refining is not restricted to theistic paradigms; it occurs just as clearly in naturalistic attempts to explain away claims of the divine. It's not a matter of black and white, but of relative plausibility and richness of explanation.

bm: Let's see how quickly we disappear down a post-modern rabbit hole now.

DP: Some atheists are positively giddy with the good news of unbelief. One reason, of course, is the sadly checkered history of religious believers. "When one considers how much blood has been shed in the name of faith--in whatever God it might be--one might perhaps wish," says Hans-Dieter Gelfert, speaking this time not as a mere observer of the Americans but as, himself, a religiously skeptical European, "that the founders of expansionist religions, among which Christianity figures, had chosen not faith but humble doubt as the royal path to God."23

bm: Consider how well those terrible atheists in Scandinavia are making out in most social categories important to Mormons.

DP: The very notion of strong religious belief has become suspect in the modern era, and particularly since 9-11. Take, for example the words of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), a very intelligent man who represents, in more ways than one, one of the bluest of the blue states, during a June 2003 hearing on the nomination of William Pryor to serve as a United States appeals-court judge:

In Pryor's case, his beliefs are so well known, so deeply held, that it's very hard to believe, very hard to believe that they're not going to deeply influence the way he comes about saying, "I will follow the law." And that would be true of anybody who had very, very deeply held views.24

bm: A reasonable point.

DP: "Deeply held views," you see, is frequently a code term for religious views these days, and savors of theocracy.

bm: Why is this the case? There are lots of non-religious ideologies that have done mankind terrible damage. Hitler. Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao. Space craft cults. Etc. The problem is not religious belief per se, it is dogmatic and irrational ideology, such as many aspects of Mormonism.

DP: During a visit a few years ago to Iran, under the auspices and with the sponsorship of the regime there, more than a few of the two dozen or so other American academics who were part of the group pressed me to acknowledge the allegedly strong similarities between Utah and the Islamic Republic. It is fashionable in some circles to speak of Utah as a theocracy, and even of the Latter-day Saints as America's Taliban or, for short, the "Utaliban." Which is, of course, utter nonsense. But the avowedly anti-religious Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, which portrays Mormons and Mormonism essentially as a violent threat to non-Latter-day Saints, was a recent bestseller.

bm: Krakauer's fair point is that the seeds of irrationality that caused the murders he chronicled are found in mainstream Mormonism.

DP: Critics of religious belief point recently to al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, and Wahhabism. But they should not be permitted to forget Josef Stalin, nor, for that matter, the entire murderous twentieth century, in which atheists and quasi-atheists killed tens of millions. Hitler, a virulent anti-Christian, regarded humanity as a bacterium on the earth's surface. And Stalin railed against God even on his quite horrible deathbed in March of 1953.

bm: See my point above. More straw men. The point is not that theism or atheism are necessarily bad or good. It is that dogma and other forms of irrationality are bad. To the extent Mormonism relies on irrational dogma and encourages blind obedience, it is bad.

DP: He had suffered a severe stroke that had left his right side paralyzed, and his last hours were spent in virtually unbearable pain. Slowly, he was strangled. As his daughter Svetlana later reported, her father choked to death while those around his deathbed looked on. Although, at the very last, he had seemed at most merely semiconscious, he suddenly opened his eyes and looked about the room, plainly terrified. Then, according to Svetlana, "something incomprehensible and awesome happened that to this day I can't forget and don't understand." Stalin partially lifted himself in the bed, clenched his fist toward the heavens, and shook it defiantly. Then, with an unintelligible murmur, he dropped motionless back onto his pillow, and died.25

bm: And what inference are we justified in drawing from that story? A man in extremis on his death bed may have done something that appeared odd. Are we to assume that he saw God coming for him? This is too weak to be called fear mongering, though it seems to attempt that.

DP: I confess that I find those who rejoice in atheism baffling.

bm: No surprise here. Peterson's perspective should be expected to make many aspects of our world baffling to him.

One of the important things to note about Mormonism is the extent to which its worldview can prevent its faithful from grasping some of the most basic aspects of the society and culture by which they are surrounded. This is how you explain both people like Peterson, and people like me who until age 45 literally had no idea about the reality of the history and social practise of Mormonism (my own religion) while getting top of the class grades in an undergraduate program in the humanities (minor - religious studies, ironically), law and MBA.

DP: It's not merely the thought of the atheist's funeral: "all dressed up with nowhere to go." I think of Beethoven, hiding down in the basement with pillows to his ears, desperately trying to save his fading sense of hearing as he was working on his majestic "Emperor" Concerto. Or, a little later, conducting the magnificent Ninth Symphony, which he never heard, having to be turned around by the concertmaster because he did not know that the audience was applauding him. I think of Mozart, feverishly trying to finish his own Requiem--dead at thirty-five and thrown into an unmarked pauper's grave. So many lives have been cut short, leaving so many poems unwritten, so many symphonies uncomposed, so many scientific discoveries unmade.

bm: And many other stories can be told of atheists or agnostics who went peacefully and happily to their graves. What does this prove? More attempted scare mongering. See the interview with John Maynard Smith at for something more realistic.

DP: In fact, it's hard to think of anyone who has achieved her full potential in this life. Tragic foreshortenings don't only happen to geniuses. A neighbor and friend was stricken with multiple sclerosis in her mid-twenties and now, in her thirties, lies bedridden in a rest home. Barring some incredible medical breakthrough, this is her life. Absent hope for a life to come, this is all she will ever have to look forward to. My own father, for the last six years of his life, blind from an utterly unforeseen stroke suffered during routine and relatively minor surgery, was incapable of any of the activities in which he had once found satisfaction, and pathetically asked me, every few weeks, whether he would ever see again. What comfort would there be in saying, "No, Dad. This is it. Nothing good is coming. And then you'll die."

bm: More fear mongering. Many people with even a moderately broad perspective don't seem to have this trouble. As the non-theist and respected biologist Ursula Goodenough puts it, "Life is like a coral reef. We each leave behind the best, the strongest deposit we can so that the reef can grow. But what's important is the reef.". I am content with my place in the reef; to enjoy life's miracle while it lasts; to learn to pay more attention to the tiny part of the miracle that is before me, moment by moment; and think less about those parts of the future that are beyond my influence.

DP: I can certainly understand coming to the sad conclusion that this is, in fact, the truth about the human condition: That we live briefly, then we die, and we rot. That so, too, do our children and our grandchildren. And that so, also, does everything we create--our music, our buildings, our literature, our inventions. That "all we are is dust in the wind." But I cannot understand those who regard this as glorious good news.

bm: This is likely one of those things that one must experience. This transition was a wonderful relief for me, and continues to enliven me. Many others report a similar experience. Again, see Maynard Smith's interview above for a nice summary. And see my account of dealing with a son in the ICU shortly after going through my transition at

DP: Perhaps, on second thought, though, I can understand those who might see it as a liberation. "If there is no God," says Dostoevsky's Ivan Karamazov, "that means everything is permitted." Why? Because nothing matters at all; everything is meaningless. However, this liberation comes at a very, very high price. "If we believe in nothing," said the great French writer and Nobel laureate Albert Camus,

if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance. There is no pro or con: the murderer is neither right nor wrong. We are free to stoke the crematory fires or to devote ourselves to the care of lepers. Evil and virtue are mere chance or caprice.26

At the point where it is no longer possible to say what is black and what is white, the light is extinguished and freedom becomes a voluntary prison.27

bm: An old canard. More fear mongering. There is a mountain of social scientific data that shows that our moral instincts have nothing to do with religion and everything with our evolved biology. And this likely is simply explained on the basis that human groups populated by lies and cheats did not prosper. See the bibliography at the end of

DP: Consider, too, this supremely complacent remark, offered by a vocal atheist critic of Mormonism during a 2001 Internet discussion: "If there were a God," he reflected, "I think (s)he'd enjoy hanging out with me--perhaps sipping on a fine Merlot under the night sky while devising a grand unified theory." Only someone very comfortably situated could be so marinated in smugness about the question of whether or not God exists.

bm: I would enjoy both the Merlot (though Pinot Noir would be better, and some well chosen bread, cheese, olives, etc. would be presumed to be part of the deal) and the discussion as well. It is nice to feel comfortable with reality as best we can apprehend it.

DP: But the vast majority of the world's population is not so situated, and, for them, atheism, if true, is very bad news indeed. Most of the world's population, historically and still today, does not live, well fed and well traveled, to a placid old age surrounded by creature comforts. Most of the world has been and is like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the slums of Cairo, the backward rural villages of India, the famine-ridden deserts of northeastern Africa, the war-ravaged towns of the southern Sudan and of Rwanda. If there is going to be a truly happy ending for the millions upon millions of those whose lives have been blighted by torture, starvation, disease, rape, and murder, that ending will have to come in a future life. And such a future life seems to require a God.

bm: So what? How does that change the probability of what is real and what is not? Peterson needs a primer in reasoning far more than many he likes to criticize.

DP: Yes, the problem of evil is a huge one, but to give up on God is to give evil the final say. It is to admit that child rapists and murderers dictate the final chapters in the lives of their terrified and agonized victims; that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot really did triumph, forever, over the millions they slaughtered; that, in the rotting corpses of Darfur and Iraqi Kurdistan, we see the final, definitive chapter of thousands of lives; that there is, really, no hope for those whose health is in irreversible decline; that every human relationship ends in death, if not before.

bm: A big part of Peterson's problem is his narrow point of view regarding how religious people think. When you approach these things that twist his knickers from a Buddhist, Taoist or any of many other religious points of view, they are not problems.

DP: This would not be good news, and I see no compelling reason to accept it. In fact, I see numerous persuasive reasons to reject the claim. But that is a subject not just for another occasion but, necessarily, for a great number of other occasions.

Secular anti-Mormons typically criticize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on two broad grounds. First of all, they say that its claims are untrue.

bm: Amen. I would say that Mormon claims are highly probable to be untrue.

DP: Second, they accuse it and its leaders of wrongdoing--with respect, for example, to the origins of plural marriage, its supposed manipulation of history, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

bm: Amen again. The kind of deception Mormons leaders use is not justified.

DP: But it is not clear that, on a purely secular and naturalistic basis, either form of critique can be coherent. In order for one or both types of criticism to be coherent, it may be that theism is a necessary precondition.

bm: I can hardly wait for this.

DP: Permit me to explain, very briefly. I'll take them in reverse order.

First, the critics' basis for criticizing Mormonism on moral grounds is unclear, and its coherence needs to be demonstrated.

bm: See my point above. It is pretty simple. The deception of Mormon leaders is not justified. There are lots of other reasons as well, but this one is enough.

DP: "Rebellion cannot exist," observes Camus, "without the feeling that, somewhere and somehow, one is right.28 But on what basis can a materialist, whose universe is exhausted by material particles and the void, claim that something is objectively wrong?

bm: Here we go down the postmodern rabbit hole. Camus is one of the post-Modern philosophers who support the Mormon intellectual position that as long as it "works", "feels good" etc. Mormon belief and practise is justified. See starting at page 10, and go to page 15 to cut straight to the point.

DP: Do right and wrong not become matters merely of personal preference, and, perhaps, of power? Not only existentialists but many superficial "life counselors" suggest that we should construct our own "meaning" for life. But is self-constructed meaning really meaning at all? Or is meaning not, rather, something that can only be received, from another intelligence? And why should anybody else pay even the slightest attention to somebody's self-constructed "meaning?"

bm: Elementary ethics rest on a number of rules, the most common of which resembles the Golden Rule (Kant's categorical imperative), while others are derived from utility theory and justice theory. Deception of the type in which Mormonism's leaders have engaged, and in which they still engage, run contrary to each of these. The idea that atheism implies immorality is preposterous.

DP: Camus observes of the atheistic French revolutionaries of 1793 that, when they effectively "guillotined" God, "they deprived themselves forever of the right to outlaw crime or to censure malevolent instincts."29 "From the moment that man submits God to moral judgment, he kills Him in his own heart. And then what is the basis of morality? God is denied in the name of justice, but can the idea of justice be understood without the idea of God?"30 If those who deny any objective basis for morality nonetheless go on behaving morally and invoking morality, we can only be grateful that they have not pursued the implications of their position to their logical end, and that they continue to live on borrowed moral capital. Of the nihilistic revolutionaries who are the subject of his brilliant meditation in The Rebel, Camus remarks that

All of them, decrying the human condition and its creator, have affirmed the solitude of man and the nonexistence of any kind of morality. But at the same time they have all tried to construct a purely terrestrial kingdom where their chosen principles will hold sway.31

bm: On whose side is Peterson citing Camus? His words don't fit in my mouth.

DP: It is not surprising that, just prior to his tragic and early death in a 1960 automobile accident, Albert Camus was evidently giving serious consideration to being received into the Roman Catholic Church. He was, I'm guessing, horrified by the revolutionary excesses of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and had come to suspect that only theism could provide an objective basis for moral judgments. It is precisely the same kind of reasoning that led the Anglo-American poet W.H. Auden to embrace Christianity: He found himself sitting in a movie hall in the late 1930s, in an area of New York City then heavily populated with German immigrants. As a newsreel played, depicting acts of Nazi barbarism toward European Jews, the audience around him erupted with cheers and surges of pleased laughter. Shaken by what he had witnessed, Auden realized that his secular worldview couldn't provide him with a firm moral ground from which to protest that Nazi brutality was objectively evil.

bm: More fear mongering and straw men. Why don't we talk about the social record of the Godless Scandanivian countries? Why don't we talk about the problems with Christianity in America (see Oh, but I suppose of America were all Mormon - all like Utah - things would be much better. Peterson is compelling only to those who share his myopic point of view.

DP: Camus and Auden may have been right. On the basis of what moral principles do secularizing critics pronounce the Church wanting? How were those principles chosen, and why should anybody else defer to them? Even if one were to grant the factual claims on which they stake their moral judgments, it is not at all clear that those moral judgments are capable of bearing any objectively real weight.

bm: See the above. This is one of the reasons for which many Europeans are likely to regard people like Peterson as ignorant. The amount of reading the man has done to understand the little he does must be close to world record territory. And I don't accuse him of stupidity, ill will or anything else of a similar sort. He is a product of Mormon culture. Similar people are found with all other similarly narrow cultures that I have studied. See the long essays referenced at the beginning of this review.

DP: But then, neither is it clear, given secularizing principles, that concepts like "factual claims" and "personal preference" are even coherent--which brings us to the second type of secular objection to Mormonism: The critics' basis for criticizing Mormonism on intellectual grounds, saying that it is untrue, is unsure, and its coherence needs to be demonstrated.

bm: I think I can feel what is coming. This runs down the line of the post Modern Mormon position outlined in the Denial essay I reference above.

DP: Why? We all know essentially what it would mean to say that an astronomer's thinking about the atmosphere of Jupiter was correct, and what it means to say that the conclusion of a syllogism follows from, or is entailed by, the premises of the syllogism.

However, on a completely secularist, naturalistic view, it seems that "thoughts" are really merely neurochemical events in the brain, able (in principle, at least) to be described by the laws of physics. But the laws of physics are deterministic--I'll leave quantum indeterminacy out of consideration here …

bm: Good thing, because it is irrelevant above the quantum level and that is where our brains function.

DP: because I don't think it helps either side much--such that, if "thoughts" are merely physical, it is unclear how we can really say that a conclusion follows from premises. Why? Because any given brain state seems to be causally determined by the preceding brain state. And it is hard, moreover, to see how the neurochemical condition of the brain can have a relationship of either truth or falsity with the atmosphere of a distant planet--or, for that matter, with anything else. A lump of cells is neither true nor false. It isn't "about" anything else; it just is.

bm: I can't believe my good fortune to be witness to the public expression by a prominent Mormon apologist of something this ridiculous.

So we can know nothing about culture, history, etc. if we adopt a naturalistic position (see I can't believe what I am hearing. I just re-read the paragraph above. It is worse than I first thought. Peterson says that if I adopt the secular, naturalist point of view I abandon my claim to be able to find any reliable evidence about anything. This is incredible.

DP: Thus, truly consistent secularist critics of Mormonism may have sawed off the limb on which they were sitting. They may have deprived themselves not only of a standard of moral judgment that cannot be dismissed as merely subjective, but of a coherent claim to be able to address questions of truth and falsity (with respect to Mormonism and every other topic). Some form of theism, or, at least, of non-naturalism, may be required to save their position from being merely self-refuting. (If it is not, this will have to be demonstrated.) But if they adopt theism, or even mere non-naturalism, they will no longer be secularist critics, but will have become something else.

bm: I can hardly wait to forward this to my never-LDS scientist friends. They will bust a gut.

DP: Many years ago, as a missionary in Switzerland, another elder and I met a woman at the door while we were tracting. When we told her that we represented The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she smiled quite oddly and, even more oddly by Swiss standards, invited us in. She immediately fetched her husband, and asked us to tell him the name of the Church that we represented. He too smiled oddly when he heard it, and I began to wonder what sort of people we had found. But then he explained that he was a Yugoslavian-born physician who had once been a Melchizedek Priesthood holder in our Church. And he told us a story that, I confess, I have never checked since; I may have some of the details wrong, but the gist of it is as follows: Decades before, he had served as a counselor to a priesthood leader in his native country as the communists were consolidating their power there. Several times, he said, this priesthood leader had dreams warning him that members of his congregation needed to flee because the secret police would soon be coming for them. And the man was right every time. However, the former counselor, with whom I was speaking, had eventually made his way to medical school in Switzerland, where his studies had taught him that revelation was an illusion. But how, I asked, did he account for his former priesthood leader's remarkably accurate record of forecasting visits from the secret police, a record of which I knew (and know) nothing but what he had told me? "Brain chemistry and chance," he replied.

bm: That is a good answer.

DP: There was, in other words, no substantial or necessary link between the various brain states of the priesthood leader and external events. That they coincided was just sheer good luck for those who thereby escaped the clutches of the commissars. (I might add that the German missionary with whom I was working that particular day, a converted German merchant sailor who was, to put it mildly, plain spoken, thereupon asked if he could visit the home again with his tape recorder, because, he said, this man furnished an unforgettable specimen of how Satan deceives people. Visibly surprised by such bluntness, the man agreed that he could return.)

bm: Mormon arrogance based on the same kind of emotional epistemology, and unjustified certainty, that causes suicide bombings and riots over cartoons. And applauded by Peterson in the same way other such arrogance and aggressive behaviour is applauded in other ignorant religious communities. Blind faith is a beautiful thing to witness.

DP: If there were powerful arguments compelling us to forsake religious belief, and if there were no persuasive arguments for such belief, we might feel ourselves obliged to accept what I, at least, regard as the bleakness of the secular, naturalistic worldview.

bm: It is clear by now that arguments that many would find compelling are not acceptable to Peterson.

DP: But we are not so compelled, and there are persuasive arguments for belief. The question is at the very least equally balanced. And in such a situation, as William James brilliantly argued against W.K. Clifford, religious belief represents a rational choice. Even if one thinks the matter only fifty-fifty--which I emphatically do not--James's advice to "choose the sunny side of doubt" strikes me as eminently reasonable. Besides, as we now know, it's healthier.

bm: Whether the question is "equally balanced" depends entirely on the evidence one believes to be relevant. If you eliminate emotion based evidence on the basis that it is demonstrable unreliable, the question is far from balanced.

Consider the pattern of irrational belief related to religion described at Basically, many religious believers (including Mormons) can be shown to generally accept the findings of science, but to deny them where the information produced by science conflicts with important religious beliefs. The Mormon attitude regarding many aspects of archaeology, DNA science etc. relative to the Book of Mormon are a prime example of this. The evidence Mormons and other religious people use to justify their irrational denial of scientific evidence in this regard is mostly emotional and/or social in nature. When the emotional and social evidence is eliminated, the question of belief in any particular kind of God (such as the Mormon version, who is alleged to have appeared to Joseph Smith, etc.) is far from balanced. There is no reason to believe that any of the these versions of God is any more likely to be true than the others. And ask any believer about the probability of the others being true.

DP: I'm grateful to Lou Midgley for drawing my attention to an anecdote related by the eminent Protestant church historian Martin Marty with reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It involves the famous eighteenth-century French hostess Marie de Vichy-Chamrond, the Marquise du Deffand, a friend of Voltaire and other leading intellectuals of the day. When Cardinal de Polignac informed her that the martyr St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, had walked a hundred miles after his execution, carrying his head in his hand, Madame du Deffand replied that, "In such a promenade, it is the first step that is difficult." She meant, of course, that it is not the claim that St. Denis walked a hundred miles that poses a difficulty. Perhaps he actually walked only ninety-nine miles, or perhaps he walked a hundred and two--such differences are immaterial. The fundamental question is whether, after his beheading, he walked at all. Once that essential point has once been granted, the rest is mere detail.

bm: This is an apt analogy. It uses something extremely unlikely (walking anywhere after having one's head severed) to help us understand something else that is extremely unlikely (Mormonism's founding events being true).

DP: Marty uses the story to identify what is fundamental in Latter-day Saint claims, particularly as they have come under the lens of what he terms "the crisis of historical consciousness"--by which he intends the skepticism and intense scrutiny of modern historical scholarship, which has been directed against virtually all traditional claims, religious and otherwise, around the world. "By analogy," he writes,

if the beginning of the promenade of Mormon history, the First Vision and the Book of Mormon, can survive the crisis, then the rest of the promenade follows and nothing that happens in it can really detract from the miracle of the whole. If the first steps do not survive, there can be only antiquarian, not fateful or faith-full interest in the rest of the story.32

bm: As said above, these events are about as likely true as is a man to walk anywhere without his head.

DP: Whatever may be said about Church involvement with the Equal Rights Amendment and California Proposition 29, or about Brigham Young's personality, or about the Church's history with racial issues, or about Church finances or the Indian Placement Program, or about possibly imperfect local leaders, or about any number of other matters in which we sometimes become lost, the fundamental issues are really quite few. But they are fundamental. And, on them, I believe we fare quite well. We simply need to keep our eyes, and so far as possible, our critics' e
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Daniel Peterson's "Reflections On Secular Anti-Mormonism" A Quick Reaction
Friday, Feb 10, 2006, at 09:19 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Yesterday I posted at the Recovery from Mormonism bulletin board the full text of an essay written by BYU/FARMS' (the Foundation of Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) Daniel Peterson, along with my commentary. I choose this format first because I simply read the essay and annotated it on the fly, and second because I did not want anyone to think I was taking Peterson's highly entertaining comments out of context.

Within a short time of my posting (no more than a few hours) the board monitors at RFM received a complaint from the people at the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research ("FAIR") that my post violated their copyright in Peterson's essay, which as noted below was on FAIR's website (see I find this in and of itself fascinating. The link to the article at FAIR was provided, and I would have thought FAIR would appreciate me advertising for them at RFM. And given the extensive nature of my commentary, I suspect that the way in which I dealt with Peterson's argument is well within the "fair use" exception to copyright law. Nonetheless, since they have complained and RFM wants to be well onside their copyright obligations, I wasted an hour chopping up yesterday's writing for re-publication at RFM. It is below.

I note in passing that the folks at FAIR have a long history of taking a legalistic approach to information sharing. They seem to have bought fully into the lovely idea that Mormons are engaged in a life and death struggle with the forces of darkness that seek to overcome them, and that a wide range of questionable means are justified by the righteousness of the ultimate Mormon end. Boyd Packer is no doubt proud of FAIR in this regard. So, it is OK to cyber squat in an effort to waste their enemies time, publish misleading pap of many kinds with a thin scholarly veneer, etc. The essay I review below is a prime example of this kind of thing.

I don't accuse the people at FAIR of stupidity, ill-will or anything of that kind. They are products of the fascinating confluence of powerful Mormon dogma and conditioning systems within a human group that has reached the critical mass required for the creation and maintenance of culture on the one hand, and the very secular forces Peterson is stumbling around on the other that are being injected with increasing regularity and potency into Mormonism's veins. I have further comments below, directed at Peterson, that deal with the idea that people who do the kind of thing he does are not bad, just the predictable product of a particularly narrow (and bad) culture that is struggling for survival in a rapidly changing world. The same kind of confluence is producing conflict in the Muslim world of a more violent kind as we speak.

Back to Peterson and his essay. It classically illustrates how Mormon apologists use straw-men arguments and a variety of other flawed analytical techniques to reassure a group that the belief system in which they are heavily invested is worth preserving. A friend drew a few of Peterson's comments about this piece to may attention. He apparently managed to make a copy of it during the short time it was up at RFM yesterday. Peterson said that,

"In my opinion, [McCue's] purported rebuttal substantially and grossly misrepresented my position at numerous fundamental points, creating a ludicrous straw man in which I can't recognize my own ideas."

I have preserved enough of Peterson's text below to allow anyone who wishes to judge how badly I have mischaracterized him.

I suggest that those who read this remember that Peterson's most important audience is people who are like I used to be. That is, faithful Mormons who think BYU is a respected academic institution when it comes to religious studies; who respect Peterson's academic credentials; who assume that Peterson is employing the usual scholarly standards in what he writes; and most of all, who fervently hope that Mormonism is true. For these people Peterson is compelling and this is precisely what I find so offensive about his writing - it does not present anything remotely resembling a fair case and hence whether by design or not, will tend to dupe trusting people. On the other hand, virtually anyone outside the circle of Mormon faith who takes the time to read this will likely be treated to a few good laughs and groans.

I have called this a "quick" reaction because I wrote my comments while reading Peterson's essay for the first time, and then re-read them once to edit for spelling and tone. Since I was forced by FAIR to waste another hour to re-read and chop up what I did yesterday, I added a few more comments while doing that. However, "quick" does not mean "short".

I simply start at the beginning of Peterson's essay and add my comments as they occur to me. I have excised at FAIR's request the portions of Peterson' s text that are not relevant to my comments.

Peterson's text is designated by "DP" and mine by "bm". I am sure there are lots of typos in what follows. This exercise is not important enough to me to justify the time that careful editing would require. And what I have done is enough to allow anyone with "ears to hear" to understand the nature of the apologist beast that Peterson typifies.


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Topic: Mormon Belief Interferes With Rational Decision Making? And Where Will This Take Mormonism?
Monday, Feb 13, 2006, at 07:07 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Rational forces have consistently throughout modern history overcome irrationality. However, during long periods of time irrational forces of various kinds have imposed heavy burdens on groups of people. For example, for centuries leading up to about 1100 CE the Muslim/Arab peoples led humankind with regard to secular studies such as math and science, and they were also the wealthiest and in many ways the most cultured group on Earth at the same time. At that point, religious forces gained the upper hand within Muslim society and they began to emphasize "spiritual" studies over secular, quickly lost their scientific, wealth and cultural advantages and began down the road that now has Muslims rioting and killing each other over cartoons published on the other side of the world (see This is a temporary setback that has lasted, to this point, almost 1000 years.

I see something similar occurring within Mormonism right now, and the direction those who remain faithful to Mormonism take is likely to determine much regarding the diversity and richness of life their descendants enjoy for generations to come.

I am regularly (such as last night) in conversation with well-educated Mormons who struggle when trying to deal with rational concepts related to things like science, investment strategies, politics and other purely secular matters. And I see in their struggles infections likely attributable to the magical thinking at the heart of what is required these days to be a literally believing Mormon. The conversation in which I participated last night that sparked this piece had to do with an investment opportunity that a successful young Mormon had been offered. Since Mormons still respect my judgement regarding investments (that, evidently, does not require "the Spirit"), he wanted to run the proposal that had been made to him by me. I was happy to listen for a few minutes and tell him what I thought.

Five seconds into my friend's explanation, I gave him a thumbs down. He has been offered the chance to get in on the ground floor of a "perpetual motion machine" that is going to revolutionize the energy and automotive industries. I summarized the many similar "opportunities" I have encountered during my career and how each of them caused a lot of investors to lose their money while usually also being sincerely believed in by a "genius" inventor who the scientific community "did not understand"; I explained how humans are congenitally (it seems) unable to resist huge upside propositions like this that have no support in the scientific theory that ultimately must explain how they work; etc. That is, the speculative stock industry and Las Vegas are kept in business by the human inability to assess with reasonable accuracy what a small chance to win a large amount of money is worth. Our greed consistently causes us to pay more for chances like this than we should. And promoters of various types have from time immemorial taken advantage of this human tendency. It is far better to be a seller of chances to invest of this type than a buyer. At least, I told him, the people in Las Vegas are upfront about how they make their money. Everyone knows that most gamblers lose money and the "house" gets rich. And so most people who gamble treat the cost of gambling as the price of entertainment. Those invest in speculative stocks or real estate or multi-level marketing schemes are often sucked into the same game on the basis that they really do have a reasonable chance to make money.

And, I noted, when an idea has been around for a while and the people who have the most expertise in related fields have passed on it, you can be pretty certain that the idea does not work.

My friend was unconvinced. He told me that NASA and other branches of the US government were "looking at this concept seriously". I said that if the concept had any material chance of success, there were countless big companies that would have already snapped it up. I mentioned the Ballard Battery organiztion (see as an example of a relatively modest technology that has attracted investment capital from some of the world's lartest corporations. A perpetual motion machine would make Ballard look like peanuts and so if it were any good there is only the tiniest chance that a guy like him would be given a look at it. If the idea had merit, there would be no need to present this idea to people like him who have no idea how the technolgy works.

My friend cited (no doubt using information the "inventor" had given him) planetary motion and the movement of electrons etc. around the nucleus of atoms as "proof" that perpetual motion machines were possible. I explained a little about the big bang theory of cosmology, what happens in black holes and how the laws of entropy work to explain that the analogies he was using did not support the idea his inventor was selling. I could tell that he remained unconvinced, and heard him later in the evening planning a trip to meet the inventor in person.

In short, my young friend did not take seriously the judgement of the scientific community or of wealthy investors (like General Motors or NASA) who rely upon the judgement of scientists to make billion dollar investment decisions. I suggested to him the places he should look to assess the merits of this invention on a scientific basis, how perpetual motion machines have been an inventors' Holy Grail forever and how credible scientists long ago abandoned the idea and have focused instead on converting energy from one form (atomic, fossil fuel, sun, wind, etc.) into another that is more convenient for us to use. But he was not interested in this. He had heard about something that "felt good" to him, and that feeling was more important (at this point at least) than anything he might find in a science book. Where would a well educated young Mormon get an idea like that?

I have run into similar attitudes in the Mormon community related to much more important issues.

The world overpopulated? Don't be silly. Science will be able to continue to expand our ability to support life on Earth indefinitely.

Global warming? What is all the fuss about? There is not enough evidence yet that humankind has anything to do with global warming for us to be concerned.

Godless Europeans (and particularly the REALLY godless Scandinavians) have fewer social problems than Middle America? Don't be ridiculous. That is impossible. And no I don't want to read anything about this.

Young Mormons marry too early, have children too soon and hence have marital experiences that lead to an increased incidence of depression? That could not be further from the truth. The surveys the Church does show that active Mormons are among the happiest people on Earth.

Across a broad range of critical issues Mormons tend to be ignorant of the relevant science, and when the science is presented to them they tend to accept even the fringiest minority positions as solid support for their dogmatic beliefs. You can always find a minority position based in science to support your view, including that alien abductions are real, the Earth is 10,000 years old and the Holocaust did not occur. The rational thing for us non-scientists to do is govern ourselves by what the majority of well informed scientists have to say on any given topic.

My young friend is one of those Mormons who has struggled through the evidence related to the Book of Mormon and other aspects of Mormonism, and has decided that despite the fact that he doesn't like a lot of what Mormon leaders do and have done in the past, that his experience with Mormonism overall (and most importantly how he feels when "The Spirit" moves him) is more important than anything else. So, he has decided against the evidence that the God Joseph Smith taught about is real and gave Joseph Smith special authority that was passed on to Gordon Hinckley, etc. For example, the scientific evidence regarding DNA relative to the Book of Mormon's historicity (see is interesting, but does not prove anything. Again, how we feel is more important than any evidence of this kind.

Is it surprising that the same mind that would justify Mormonism against the scientific and historical evidence in the manner just noted would also:

. be prepared to invest in a perpetual motion machine that has not scientific support,

. spend time developing a Muti-Level Marketing "business" (Amway, for example) when the statistics regarding it show that 99+ percent of those who get involved lose money, not to mention creating painful false expectations and wasting years of time in many cases,

. not care about global overpopulation or ecological issues,

. get married at age 21 right after returning from his mission because "the Lord revealed to him on his first date with XXXX that she was to be his wife",

. encourage his wife to quit her job and start having babies "because that is the Lord's will" even though he does not have a reliable means of supporting their family and she has a great job,

. move from one city to another because he feels like the Lord has something for him to do there, even though job prospects there are inferior to those where he already lives, the cost of living is higher there, commuting distances are worse there, etc.,

. start taking anti-depressants instead of seeing a counselor who would help him to understand that his day to day pattern of living is virtually guaranteed to cause depression,

. tell his gay son that it would be best if all the gay people in the world were put on an island and blown up.

I have run into each of these situations during the past little while. Non-Mormons do silly things too of course, but I think it is fair to suggest a causal relationship between the Mormon need to deny science to maintain their religious beliefs and make decisions based on emotional experience, and the Mormon tendency I see toward making other kinds of bad decisions that paying more attention to the wisdom science has produced would help to avoid.

Time will tell whether Mormons will continue to turn inward, as the Muslims did 1000 years ago, or whether they will jettison their literal beliefs that are producting the mind virus I just described. What makes this particularly interesting is that a process that occurred in the Muslim world over centuries will be compressed into a few years within North American Mormonism as a result of the average Mormon educational level and access to information through the internet. This will supercharge the move toward either ignorance and the denial of science, or rationality.

My bet is that we will see a polarization within Mormonism quickly develop. The old guard do not know and will not be prepared to learn, so their behavior will not be affected. The real battle for hearts and minds will occur in the generation that is now under 30 years of age, and even more importantly with their children.

A friend told me recently about the radical changes that have occurred during the last decade on some Hutterite (like the Old Order Amish) colonies in Alberta (see - this article does not capture the extent of this change as it was described to me).

Thirty years ago when I lived near these people many of them still did not have televisions, radio, and had virtually no contact with the outside world. Now many of them are almost indistinguishable from other rural folk. And many others still dress differently but have television, the internet and a degree of intellectual and behavioral freedom that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. That is, their worldview and culture has radically changed within a short time. And, a small number of hardcore traditionalists have become stricter than ever in their lifestyles (see for example

My bet is that during the next two decades we will see something similar occur within Mormonism as the generation of Mormon internet children reach maturity.


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Eternal Companions
Tuesday, Feb 14, 2006, at 07:56 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Grandpa smoked. I don't recall learning this any more than I learned that he was a tall, bald, Mormon farmer. His smoking caused my mother and her sisters no end of angst. Because of their behaviour when together, I still associate cigarettes with whispers and tears . Smoking was a terrible sin. And, it had made Grandpa sick.

Grandpa died when I was 11. Emphysema. He was in his 60s. It was a sad funeral. But I came away with the immensely relieving sense that somehow Grandpa had been forgiven for his sins - even the smoking - and would be in the Celestial Kingdom waiting for us IF we were spiritual enough to get there.

I was near the tail end of around 50 grandchildren, and was one of the few who lived far from Grandpa and Grandma. We visited the farm occasionally - maybe 15 times during the part of those eleven years I have some chance of remembering. Grandpa was a stern shadow during those visits. I recall him chopping the head off a chicken and telling me that it was after me when it starting flopping around. I was maybe three or four, and spent a good part of the next hour beneath my mother's broad skirt, wrapped around her leg. Oddly though, I can't remember the sound of his voice or ever seeing him smile, but have a clear image of Grandpa him walking through the spindly crab apple orchard behind "Grandma's house", far enough away that I couldn't see the wisp of smoke that no doubt followed him.

Grandma could also be mean. Scraping a living out of a dry-land farm and cow-calf operation in Canada's Southern Alberta made tough people. Winter temperatures often hit -30 Celcius and during the summer hit the other side of the scale. Lots of wind. Almost no rain. If crops didn't fail, markets did.

And Grandma was around hordes of grandkids. We were more like a plague of locusts for her than some kind of treat. She moved fast and demanded order. If you got in her way or broke a rule she gave you reason to remember the experience.

Grandma married a man named George within a few years of Grandpa's death. They didn't have a real wedding or discuss their plans with anyone. They just went down to the Town Hall, had their marriage formalized in the simplest possible way, and moved in together. I am not sure which followed which, and never wondered until writing this.

Mom's explanation of Grandma's remarriage was a bit red-faced. And with her sisters there was clucking about why Grandma "needed" to do this. She was, after all, going to be in the Celestial Kingdom with Grandpa. This was another of those facts that would be silly to state - like announcing that the Sun was for sure going to rise tomorrow. So a marriage to someone else seemed a bit - well - dirty.

Grandma's marriage to George was only "temporal" (which I learned meant "only for this life"). But (sigh) Grandpa George would "keep Grandma company until she could be with Grandpa again" and she would perform a similar service for George since he was a widower. This was one of those "enduring to the end" things and Grandma needed a little help to endure. That Grandma resorted to this suggested a weakness since she did not simply wait for her reunion with Grandpa.

There was some purposeful vagueness around whether George's wife was waiting for him in the Celestial Kingdom, and whether he was going there himself. George was not as spiritual a man as Grandpa was remembered to be. But oddly, Grandpa George made Grandma happier than anyone could remember seeing her. This ensured his eventual acceptance into our family. And after a time, there was no more discussion, or even hinting, about the Celestial Kingdom relative to Grandma, Grandpa or George.

When Grandma and George married he was in his late 70s or early 80s. They lived in Grandma's little white house on one of the clown-shoe wide streets "in town". She had moved in there from the farm after Grandpa died, and the house always smelled a little like decay and mothballs.

Grandma had a number of odd, and strongly held, beliefs such as that vacuums wore out carpets. She swept her carpets and lost patience quickly with grandsons who suggested that this didn't make sense. These she would dismiss with a quick turn of her head and a tone of voice that warned even the most obtuse against bringing the issue up again.

George didn't have a lot to say when company was over or while he was at family events. He was almost deaf and rather than make people repeat themselves, he smiled a lot. But when drawn into conversation with a loud enough question, he usually had something funny or interesting to say. And Grandma looked more at peace during these times than any others I recall.

I moved to Grandpa and Grandma's farm, then run by my uncle, for a year of high school. This gave me a chance to get to know Grandma, and since Grandpa George was her companion by then, I got to know him too.

Most Wednesdays I would go from basketball practise after school over to Grandma's for dinner so that I wouldn't have to go all the way out to the farm and then come back in for "Mutual", as Young Mens was then called. And after Mutual I would often return to Grandma's house to spend the night. This reduced the irritating financial and other burdens an extra teenage presence imposed on my uncle and his wife. Even through my well-above average adolescent stupor I could feel the tension I caused in their home.

My uncle simply said "yes" when asked to assume the duty of helping his youngest sister reform her wayward son. This put my aunt in a tough spot, as a result of which she often bit (or at least tried to bite) her tongue while doing her best to cope with this challenge on top of running a farm household, dealing with her own five children who were still at home, and managing her roles as grandmother and Bishop's wife. So having me out of the house one night a week worked well for everyone.

Hving dinner, bedding down (often after a cup of Postum or herbal tea) and having Breakfast with Grandma by herself exposed me to a different woman than the one I had known only while she ran huge family gatherings. She was stern, surprisingly well-informed and to my amazement, an irreverent non-conformist. As different news items came up, she would tell me without apology which family members and towns-people she approved of, which she did not and why. She was critical of local church leaders (in small ways), politicians (in big ways), and even (gasp) my high school basketball coach.

Grandma knew how both to tell jokes and laugh at them. She was learning to paint pictures but had to be cajoled into showing me what she was working on. Two of her paintings are now among my prized possessions. She comforted me in my trials with certain family members and people at church and school, and told me stories about similar challenges she had faced. And I learned a bit from her (but not nearly as much as I now wish I had) about what it was like to farm during the early part of the 1900s in Southern Alberta, and then fall in love, get married and raise a family of mostly giddy girls (five famously laughter prone sisters to one brother) on almost nothing through the Great Depression.

George tended not to participate in these conversations because as Grandma regularly reminded me in an unusually gentle tone, "He can't hardly hear a thing". Once when I came home in the middle of the night courtesy of some long-after Mutual goofing around, I saw George shuffling blindly toward me through the dark house in his underwear, headed toward the bathroom. "Good night George", I said. He continued without acknowledging me and then jumped higher than I thought possible when I had to get out of his way a few steps later. He really was deaf.

Most days George drove the 10 highway minutes that separated town from the farm he had carved out of the prairie and passed on to his sons. He "helped out" there. I am not sure how much he got done as opposed to being in the way. Well into his 80s George could beat all of the strongest cousins on my side of the family at arm wrestling. He was a diminutive, good-humoured, bull of a man. "Forearms like fence-posts" we used to say while bragging to our friends about the last time we had seen George, with a faint, satisfied smile, put down the arm of one of our strongest, reddest faced, cousins. This became a right of passage of sorts - being strong enough to think you could take Grandpa George and then being publicly humiliated. But as George aged his became one of the several vehicles fo which everyone else in town looked.

George's driving habits were well-known. He went to the farm every morning and later "uptown" (as opposed to "downtown" where other people went) to meet his friends at the Coffee Shop. I often wondered where you get "uptown" and "downtown" when one side of one block holds all a town's commercial establishments, but that is how it was.

In any event, George was so short that he could barely see over the dash board of his car. He often drove on the wrong side of the road and took baffling routes to get from point A to B. But I doubt that being taller would have made much difference. Grandma once pressed him into service to drive me several blocks to a game or meeting of some kind, and from then on I made sure I had an alibi whenever she offered this. Driving with George took more curage than I had. Grandma never drove with him. George was at that stage of life where the merger of time and space that Einstein talks about becomes real.

The rules of the road around town for people like George were clear. His license could have been taken away long before, but everyone in town knows each other so well that they exercise remarkable constraint regarding this issue. They know their turns will come. So, if you hit George while he was driving or he hit you, it was your fault - kind of like touching a hot stove and getting burned. You could see George coming and it was your responsibility to give him a wide berth, even if that meant turning into someone's driveway or parking in the ditch for a few seconds.

Eventually George passed away. And then Grandma. We mourned them each in turn, and were grateful for the way in which they brightened each others' lives, and provided a foundation in so many ways for ours. It was not until today that I realized that though I was a faithful Mormon when Grandma died, I never thought of her as joining Grandpa. Nor did I picture her with George. My mind had suppressed the hard question of to whom did Grandma belong in the Mormon eternity.

I had the chance to be with one of my cousins a few nights ago and talked about some of these things for the first time in many years. She had forgotten that I had the chance to get to know Grandma in the relatively intimate way I did. After a few stories, she asked me if Grandma drank "her tea" when I stayed at her house.

"What are you talking about?" I asked, shock registering all over my face. "Her tea? She drank tea?"

"Sure", said my cousin. "Mom told us that she tried to quit for years - kind of like Grandpa with smoking - but she just couldn't. It had a real hold on her. I can't believe you didn't know about this. All the other cousins do. And you lived with her? I used to see her tea pot and bags just sitting there on the counter."

I was stunned.

"I suppose you didn't notice that Grandpa George drank coffee."

My expression provided the answer.

"Yup", she said. "He had his coffee making equipment along with Grandma's tea brewing stuff there at the house. And he went to the coffee shop pretty much every day to have a cup or two with his friends."

I had never wondered until that moment - over 30 years since I regularly saw Grandma and Grandpa George - what he might have been doing every day in the only coffee shop in town other than visiting with his Jack or non-Mormon farmer friends. In fact, I had not wondered how a "coffee shop" managed to stay in business in a town that was 90+% Mormon. I assumed, without ever thinking about it, that they must sell a lot of stuff other than coffee.

Grandpa, Grandma and George were all from a generation of Mormons I know a lot about as a result of the reading I have done during the past three years. Their habits were formed during a time before the degree of uniform behaviour now required of Mormons came into effect. And it must have been stressful for them as their community's behavioural standards first changed and then became more rigid.

I knew that Grandpa had his "problem". But Grandma and George? It had never occurred to me that they were anything other than standard issue Mormons, though I knew that George did not take church that seriously.

What fascinated me the most is that when the rest of the family knew about Grandma's tea habit that she would go out of her way to hide it from me. She knew I was heterodox, and perhaps that is what motivated her. But I spent many evenings and mornings with her during that year, and I liked tea. I had starting drinking it a year or two before and if Grandma had offered me a cup I would have happily joined her. She must have put her stuff, and George's, away each of the many times I came over.

As is the case with so many other aspects of my Mormon life, as I think about my experience with Grandpa, Grandma and George, and what their lives must have been like, I regret that we did not celebrate much more than we did.

We appreciated George but not as we should have. What a blessing he was for Grandma. They fell in love! They made each other riotously happy for a time, as lovers do. And they helped each other find deep contentment for many years.

And I don't know much about Grandpa, but I do know about the life he and Grandma stared down together. It brimmed with hardship. While I wish he could have remained with her and enjoyed their declining years, since that was not possible we should have had the biggest party we could afford when Grandma and George fell in love. Instead, they snuck off to formalize their relationship, and then kept their heads down while people whispered.

What a shame it is that Grandma could not have shared with me how she dealt with the conflict between the way she chose to live and what her religious community attempted to make her do. Given how non-conformist she was in other ways, it does not surprise me that she cut against the grain with regard to the word of wisdom while holding a temple recommend the whole time. How much guilt did that cause her? How did she rationalize it? She was a smart, strong willed lady. I would have benefited from her perspective with regard to these things and many others of the soul. And I now feel more kinship with her than ever. My saltiness and insistence on charting my own course likely find some of their genetic roots in her.

George, as far as I know, did not hold consistently hold a temple recommend and simply lived his life as he saw fit while going to church occasionally. I was not close enough to have expected him to confide his deepest feelings in me, but would have been grateful were he prepared to do this.

It makes me ache to think of these fine people in the last years of heroic pioneer lives feeling censure from family and community members as a result of big things like falling in love and making each other immensely happy, and little things like drinking coffee and tea. And now that I see Grandpa in context as well, his smoking was nothing. He is a shadow in my life instead of a laughing grandfather largely because of the guilt that habit produced in him. He felt unclean. How tragic.

Guilt within the Mormon and other conservative religious communities has long been a stifling burden for many people. One of my friends, Joe Staples, is a talented writer who recently finished his PhD at the University of Arizona. He once shared with me the following poem.

"In one of his lucid hours, I could see a great anger come over him. He would not look at me or anyone else in the room, and seemed to wish we would all just go away. I asked him, "Are you angry?"


"Because you're still here?"


"Do you pray?"


"Why not?"

"Don't want to."

It was a surprise to me that my father, who had always seemed very prayerful and spiritually minded, would refuse to pray as Death approached. I wanted him to be faithful; I needed him to be heroic and stare Death down while telling his Heavenly Father that he was coming home. And that was my greatest betrayal; at the moment of his quintessential humanity, I asked him to be more than human.

Nearly ten years later I look back on the final week of his life, seeking to atone for the small injustices I perpetrated at his most vulnerable. He lived and died under the immense weight of a guilt he was never able to set aside. He was a better man than most, and far better than he believed himself to be.

But I stand now by the riverside, Dad, and am here to lay down my heavy load. Let me take yours, too, and lay it in the cool shade of the trees. We carried our loads a long time - picked them up from those who bore us. But we'll lay them down and carry instead my laughing children. We'll study guilt no more; we'll fish in the stream and sail paper boats and watch the grasses wave in the current. This atonement, too, flows both ways." (Joe P. Staples, Personal Correspondence, March 19, 2003)

As we harmonize our lives with reality, counterproductive guilt will bother us less and we will become more attuned to an inner voice that we have trained to warn us of self deception, approaching danger, and the opportunity to do good.

I now celebrate these grandparents lives - all three of them. The respected biologist Ursula Goodenough says that "Life is like a coral reef. We each leave behind the best, the strongest deposit we can so that the reef can grow. But what's important is the reef."

These were wonderful reef builders and having both experienced them in person and now having the opportunity to learn from them as I see more of their experience in light of my own, I choose to build my little bit of the reef differently than they built theirs. My children and loved ones will know of my inner most feelings - my loves, hates, struggles, triumphs and failures. They will know what I value and why I live as I do. I wish them to free them to explore their world in the broadest possible context, decide what they value, and have the greatest possible chance to bring that into being. So I will share that context as I see as well as I am able to do so.

I want my children to be content with their place in the reef; to enjoy life's miracle while it lasts; to learn to pay more attention to the tiny part of the miracle that is before them, moment by moment; and think less about those parts of the future that are beyond their influence. I aspire to all of this myself as well.

I find in my grandparents' lives many positive lessons, and at least one that is both negative and profoundly important. That is, I will not allow the innocent ignorance of my social group and their beliefs with regard to an improbable future after death to leach the color out of the wonderful picture life has painted and laid before me. I will, rather, immerse myself in life; revel in it; encourage it to seep into my every pore, and make of me what it will.

Life is so much more wonderful than I could have imagined a few years ago.
topic image
Magical Thinking Interferes With Rational Decision Making - A Meditation On The Thoughtful Mormon’s Choice Between Passing On Inherited Irrationality And “leaving The Fold”
Wednesday, Feb 15, 2006, at 08:20 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Magical Thinking
Interferes with Rational Decision Making -
A Meditation on the Thoughtful Mormon’s Choice Between
Passing on Inherited Irrationality and “Leaving the Fold”
bob mccue
February 11, 2006


Rational forces have consistently throughout human history overcome magical thinking and other forms of irrationality. However, it often takes a depressingly long time for the majority of even the best informed human groups to accept what with the benefit of hindsight appears to be an obvious best practise, and humans are particularly obtuse when it comes to seeing the irrationality in ideas or behaviors that are foundational to their own social groups (see Both history and current social reality relative to this point provide eloquent testimony to how the individual perception of reality tends to bend to group opinion. Our evolutionary history as small group animals who were dependant on a safe place within a social group for our survival is likely responsible for this (see, under the heading “What Causes Denial - A Synthesis” at page 119).

The struggle between rational and irrational forces in the religious world has been nicely chronicled by many scholars (see Karen Armstrong, “The Battle for God” for a particularly compelling read), and we find in the Mormon group a microcosm of this conflict. Many Mormons are at a tipping point with regard to this issue as a result of the ongoing collision between irrational Mormon beliefs and the information rich perspective provided by the Internet. The experience of other groups throughout history suggests that the direction those who remain faithful to Mormonism take on this issue will largely determine the richness of life their descendants will enjoy for generations to come.

I will conclude that individual Mormons who become aware of these issues have a choice to make of unprecedented importance as a result of what we know about how individual decision making behaviour tends to be largely determined by the behaviour supported by our dominant social group, and how slowly the behaviour of social groups tend to upgrade toward best available practises in this regard.


It is hard to sort out some aspects of early science from magic since science to a large degree emerged from magic, and the same people practiced both (see For example, when we look back on even fairly recent medical practises they often seem more magical than scientific. Think of bloodletting, for example, a practise that was common well into the 1800s (see, and see John Brooke’s “The Refiner’s Fire” for a review of how the magical/alchemical tradition influenced early Mormonism).

Ideas such as bloodletting represented the best science of their day and we should assume that some of our science based practices will be regarded by future generations much as we regard bloodletting. This is because the scientific method has built into it a number of mechanisms that over time tend to winnow out inaccurate ideas while encouraging the adoption and use of accurate ones. That is, due to the diversity of opinion and competition among a huge group of people with different interests within the scientific community, it is by far the best source of accurate information about reality that humankind has ever seen. However, the scientific community’s self-correcting mechanism is far slower than most of us realize, and worse than that, it takes enormous amounts of time for even the most important, demonstrably accurate scientific ideas to penetrate the popular consciousness.

For example, in the mid-1800s Ignaz Semmelweis (see, a Viennese obstetrician, carefully observed and reported that deaths after certain medical procedures declined from above 10% to below 1% after a hand and instrument washing program was instituted in various hospitals. The medical community viciously attacked him for taking this position. If he was right, they had been killing a significant percentage of their patients. Few ideas could be more abhorrent to medical practitioners and so their resistance was understandable to an extent. It took years in some places and decades in others for Semmelweis’ innovation to be adopted in the most educated corners of human civilization and in the meantime doctors and nurses continued to kill a significant percentage of their patients.

This and countless other examples from the history of science can be marshaled to show that it takes a lot more time what we assume to change minds that have formed around a way of doing things, regardless of how wrong. As both Max Planck and Thomas Kuhn have been reported to observe (with tongues no doubt only partly in cheek), “Science progresses on funeral at a time”. While this may be true, Einstein’s insight is more useful. He said that the theory we believe largely determines what we can see. Semmelweis’ observation was inconsistent with the general medical theory of his day. However, when the germ theory of disease was eventually developed (see hand washing and other forms of hygienic practise began to dominate hospital procedure and Semmelweis was recognized as a visionary.

If easily demonstrable, life-saving concepts like post-surgical hygienic practises are resisted, we should expect that ideas that run against the social norm and have more remote connections to our wellbeing should take much longer to be accepted. These, however, are often of immense importance and since they are not noticed can cripple entire civilizations.

For example, in the early 1600s Galileo used the newly invented telescope to revolutionize our understanding of Earth’s place in the Universe. It took at least a couple of centuries for his ideas to be widely accepted, and in 1992 the Catholic Church officially acknowledged its error in suppressing his work and in effect killing him. The Catholic Church’s tardiness in acknowledging its error is likely responsible in part for the staggering 1996 poll which reported that 20% of adult Americans believed the Sun to
revolve around the Earth (see

Another of our most important innovators, Charles Darwin, has also been poorly received. Recent polls (see have found that:

• 35% of US adults believe that evolutionary theory is well supported by the evidence.

• 35% believed evolutionary theory is not well supported by the evidence.

• 29% reported that they did know enough about evolutionary theory to respond.

• 38% said that human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process.

• 13% said that human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.

• 45% said God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.

And lest we think that beliefs of this kind don’t really matter, recall that for centuries leading up to about 1100 CE the Muslim/Arab peoples led humankind with regard to secular studies such as math and science, and they were also the wealthiest and in many ways the most cultured group on Earth at the same time. At that point, religious forces gained the upper hand within Muslim society and they began to emphasize “spiritual” studies over secular, quickly lost their scientific, wealth and cultural advantages and began down the road that now has Muslims rioting and killing each other over cartoons published in Denmark and other parts of Europe (see The triumph of irrationality in many parts of the Muslim is a temporary setback that has lasted, to this point, almost 1000 years.

The struggle between rational and irrational forces in the religious world has been nicely chronicled by many scholars (see Karen Armstrong, “The Battle for God” for a particularly compelling read), and we find in Mormon history a microcosm of this conflict. The direction those who remain faithful to Mormonism take on this issue will likely determine much regarding the diversity and richness of life their descendants enjoy for generations to come.

When we criticize any group (including the Mormons) for the use of “magical thinking” that impairs their decision making, what we are often saying is that they are using an outmoded kind of science. This is often the result of religious beliefs that formed during a particular period of time that were consistent with at least some of the scientific and historical data then available. However, once those beliefs form they become foundational to claims religious leaders make to God’s authority, and hence will be resisted because if they are found to be false it will undermine the authority of a group’s leaders and hence the stability of the group. Most humans unconsciously fear such destabilizing forces, and hence will resist information that tends in that direction. This means that they have ridden science’s train so far, have gotten off and refuse to acknowledge that the train has moved from that spot even as they stare at empty tracks. The forces that impel this are the same as those that caused surgeons around the world to refuse for a long time to wash their hands in spite of what Semmelweis’ careful measurement of what happened in his hospitals showed.

Many aspects of Mormon belief and practise leap into focus when considered in light of the social and scientific ideas that were dominant during the late 1700s and early 1800s. The idea that Amerindians were Hebrew descendants; the Victorian idea of progress (“eternal progress”); the roles of men and women; what it means to have individual freedom (see; all fall into this category.

Mormon Irrationality or Magical Thinking

I am regularly (such as last night) in conversation with well-educated Mormons who struggle when trying to deal with rational concepts related to things like science, investment strategies, politics and other purely secular matters. And I see in their struggles infections likely attributable to the magical thinking at the heart of what is required these days to be a literally believing Mormon. The conversation in which I participated last night that caused this essay had to do with an investment opportunity that a bright, successful young Mormon had been offered. Some Mormons still respect my judgement regarding investments that seem not to require "the Spirit", and he wanted to run by me what had been proposed to him. I was happy to listen for a few minutes and tell him what I thought.

Five seconds into my friend's explanation, I gave him a thumbs down. He has been offered the chance to get in on the ground floor of a “perpetual motion machine” that is going to revolutionize the energy and automotive industries. I summarized the many similar "opportunities" I have encountered during my career and how each of them caused a lot of investors to lose their money while usually also being sincerely believed in by a “genius” inventor who the scientific community “did not understand”. I explained how humans are congenitally (it seems) unable to resist huge upside propositions like this that have little to no support in the scientific theory that ultimately must explain how they work. That is, the speculative stock and real estate “investment” industries and Las Vegas are kept in business by the human inability to assess with reasonable accuracy what a small chance to win a large amount of money is worth. Our greed consistently causes us to pay more for chances like this than we should. And promoters of various types have from time immemorial taken advantage of this human weakness. It is far better to be a seller of chances to invest of this type than a buyer. At least, I told him, the people in Las Vegas are upfront about how they make their money. Everyone knows that most gamblers lose money and the “house” gets rich. And so most people who gamble treat the cost of gambling as the price of entertainment. Those invest in speculative stocks or real estate or multi-level marketing schemes are often sucked into the same game on the basis that they really do have a reasonable chance to make money.

And, I noted, when an idea has been around for a while and the people who have the most expertise in related fields have passed on it, you can be pretty certain that the idea does not work. We are far better off following the advice of the people with the greatest experience and expertise in a give field instead of trusting our instincts. This is because we are relatively ignorant; the experts are relatively wise and their collective judgement is likely to be the most accurate evidence available as to what will work and what will not; and humans (like us) have a proven tendency to each be overconfident in their own judgement (see James Surowiecki, “The Wisdom of Crowds”). Again, this is what shady and incompetent investment promoters have intuited forever, and why our securities laws require a certain amount of “due diligence” of such promoters. This constrains their natural tendency to exaggerate while not having done the work required to know what real scientists say about their investment proposal, or worse yet, suppressing that knowledge because it contradicts what the “know” to be “true”. Does that approach to reality ring a bell, by the way?.

My friend was unconvinced. He told me that NASA and other branches of the US government were "looking at this concept seriously". I said that if the concept had any material chance of success, there were countless big companies that would have already snapped it up. I referenced (without using its name) the Ballard Battery organization (see as an example of a relatively modest technology that has attracted investment capital from some of the world's largest corporations. A perpetual motion machine would make Ballard look like peanuts and so if it were any good there would be no need to present this idea to people like him who have no means to assess the technology’s merits. I thought later that I should have told my friend that if I had the details of the investment proposal I could reverse engineer the value the inventor is putting on this technology, and I am willing to bet that it is far less than the value the market places on inferior technologies (like Ballard’s) that have only been proven to have a reasonable chance of success. This approach would sound a warning bell of another kind.

My friend cited (no doubt using information the “inventor” had given him) planetary motion and the movement of electrons etc. around the nucleus of atoms as “proof” that perpetual motion machines were possible. I explained a little about the big bang theory of cosmology, what happens in black holes and how the laws of entropy work to explain that the analogies he was using did not support the idea his inventor was selling. I could tell that he remained unconvinced, and heard him later in the evening planning a trip to meet the inventor in person.

In short, my young friend did not take seriously the judgement of the scientific community or of wealthy investors (like General Motors or NASA) who rely upon the judgement of scientists to make billion dollar investment decisions. I suggested to him the places he should look to assess the merits of this invention on a scientific basis, how perpetual motion machines have been an inventors' Holy Grail forever and how credible scientists long ago abandoned the idea and have focused instead on converting energy from one form (atomic, fossil fuel, sun, wind, etc.) into another that is more convenient for us to use. But he did not seem interested in this. He had heard about something that “felt good” to him, and that feeling was more important (at this point at least) than anything he might find in a science book. Where would a well educated young Mormon get an idea like that?

I have run into similar attitudes in the Mormon community related to much more important issues.

• The world overpopulated? Don’t be silly. Science will be able to continue to expand our ability to support life on Earth indefinitely.

• Global warming? What is all the fuss about? There is not enough evidence yet that humankind has anything to do with global warming for us to be concerned.

• Godless Europeans (and particularly the REALLY godless Scandinavians) have fewer social problems than Middle America? Don’t be ridiculous. That is impossible. And no I don't want to read anything about this.

• Young Mormons marry too early, have children too soon and hence have marital experiences that lead to an increased incidence of depression? That could not be further from the truth. The surveys the Church does show that active Mormons are among the happiest people on Earth.

Across a broad range of critical issues Mormons tend to be ignorant of the relevant science, and when the science is presented to them they tend to accept even the fringiest minority positions as solid support for their dogmatic beliefs. You can always find a minority position based in science to support your view, including that alien abductions are real, the Earth is 10,000 years old and the Holocaust did not occur. The rational thing for us non-scientists to do is govern ourselves by what the majority of well informed scientists have to say on any given topic.

My young friend is one of those Mormons who has struggled through the evidence related to the Book of Mormon and other aspects of Mormonism, and has decided that despite the fact that he doesn’t like a lot of what Mormon leaders do and have done in the past, that his experience with Mormonism overall (and most importantly how he feels when "The Spirit" moves him) is more important than anything else. So, he has decided against the evidence that the God Joseph Smith taught about is real and gave Joseph Smith special authority that was passed on to Gordon Hinckley, etc. For example, the scientific evidence regarding DNA relative to the Book of Mormon's historicity (see is interesting, but does not prove anything. Again, how we feel is more important than any evidence of this kind.

Is it surprising that the same mind that would justify Mormonism against the scientific and historical evidence in the manner just noted would also:

• be prepared to invest in a perpetual motion machine that has not scientific support,

• spend time developing a Muti-Level Marketing "business" (Amway, for example) when the statistics regarding it show that 99+ percent of those who get involved lose money, not to mention creating painful false expectations and wasting years of time in many cases,

• not care about global overpopulation or ecological issues,

• get married at age 21 right after returning from his mission because “the Lord revealed to him on his first date with XXXX that she was to be his wife”,

• encourage his wife to quit her job and start having babies “because that is the Lord’s will” even though he does not have a reliable means of supporting their family and she has a great job,

• move from one city to another because he feels like the Lord has something for him to do there, even though job prospects there are inferior to those where he already lives, the cost of living is higher there, commuting distances are worse there, etc.,

• start taking anti-depressants instead of seeing a counselor who would help him to understand that his day to day pattern of living is virtually guaranteed to cause depression,

• tell his gay son that it would be best if all the gay people in the world were put on an island and blown up.

I have run into each of these situations during the past little while.

Non-Mormons do silly things too of course, and as noted above, ignorance with regard to science is far from a uniquely Mormon problem. However, Mormon beliefs create one of the many worldviews that encourage some kinds of science to be denied. And this should be expected to encourage the denial of science in other similar situations, such as where emotional experience (including all kinds of greed and fear) or social trends conflict with the best advice science has to offer. Interestingly, Buddha said greed and fear should be resisted because they are the source of most human trouble. Scientific knowledge generally helps us to do this, while belief systems like Mormonism supercharge these emotion based forces.

I therefore think it is fair to suggest a causal relationship between the Mormon need to deny science in order to maintain their religious beliefs and the Mormon tendency I observe toward making other kinds of bad decisions. If Mormons begin to pay more attention to the wisdom science has produced, their decision making will improve.

In general, I subscribe to the division or labor between science, philosophy and religion described at And, there is no reason to believe that giving science precedence in its sphere of influence as this and many other books and articles define it will erode the moral fabric of society. In fact, there is good reason to believe that the attempt to retain Mormon belief and a connection to the Mormon social group in light of science will produce immoral behaviour. This is one of the reasons for which Mormon leaders in the early 1900s abandoned their institutionalized lying about polygamy. They became concerned that this endemic deception would canker their people. The only thing surprising to me about this conclusion is that they took so long to reach it.

In Which Direction Will Mormons Turn?

Time will tell whether Mormons will continue to turn inward, as the Muslims did 1000 years ago, or whether they will jettison their literal beliefs that are producing the mind virus I just described. What makes this particularly interesting is that a process that occurred in the Muslim world over centuries will be compressed into a few years within North American Mormonism as a result of the average Mormon educational level and access to information through the internet. This will supercharge the move toward either ignorance and the continued denial of science, or rationality.

I expect to see a polarization within Mormonism quickly develop. The vast majority of the old guard do not have the perspective to recognize that their worldview is deficient, and will not be prepared to absorb the information required to see that they may be a problem, so their behavior will not change. The real battle for hearts and minds will occur in the generation that is now under 30 years of age, and even more importantly, for their children. Some will stay with their parents’ paradigm and others will either leave Mormonism or radically redefine the role of religion in their lives.

A friend told me recently about the radical changes that have occurred during the last decade on some Hutterite (like the Old Order Amish) colonies in Alberta (see - this article does not capture the extent of this change as it was described to me).

Thirty years ago when I lived near these people many of them still did not have televisions, radio, and had virtually no contact with the outside world. Now many of them are almost indistinguishable from other rural folk. And many others still dress differently but have television, Internet access and degrees of intellectual and behavioral freedom that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. That is, their worldview and culture has radically changed within a short time. And, a small number of hardcore traditionalists have gone the other way (see for example

My bet is that during the next two decades we will see something similar occur within Mormonism as the current generation of Mormon Internet children reach maturity. This is likely to strengthen Mormon fundamentalist groups and see the creation of new ones as some adults flee what they perceive to be chaos and gathering evil of society and attempt to shelter their children from it. M. Night Shyamalan's “The Village” (see provides a compelling look at this psychological space. The same forces will increase the trend toward Mormon home schooling. Mormon programmed Internet filters and portals, and Mormon sponsored university or trade schools (see

On the other hand, an increasing number of Mormons in the developed world will simply terminate their affiliation with the Mormon Church, or begin to participate on their terms instead of those dictated by Mormon leaders. This trend is evident across much of the religious spectrum where we see organizations like Rick Warren’s megachurch flourish on the basis of offering a wide choice of worship and communal experience wrapped within the same amorphous dogma (see, New Age belief of many kinds rising in popularity, and the decline of non-democratic institutions of most kinds across the developed world (see

The Mormon institutional structure should be expected to remain largely unchanged due to its paralyzingly conservative decision making mechanism. All significant changes must be unanimously approved by the 15 top leaders, all of whom are old and male. This means that little if any formal change will occur for decades unless some kind of fundamental tipping point is reached as occurred with the Community of Christ (see I think it highly unlikely that this will occur within my lifetime.

However, an increasing degree of individual flexibility will be permitted to members as a matter of practical necessity as Stake Presidents and Bishops are faced with more and more people like me. As I was told, it does not matter what I believed as long as I keep my mouth shut and so didn’t disturb the orthodoxy of others. As long as I kept that rule, I was free to participate on whatever terms I choose. This approach has become common, and will lead increasing numbers of Mormons to lead double lives. They will attend at least some Mormon services and often hold responsible leadership positions while participating anonymously on Internet bulletin boards and email lists where they can express their real beliefs and develop a sense of community with others and clarity of self perception that can only be achieved within this mode of expression.

This will cause increasing numbers of Mormons to justifying lying (or such creative use of language that the difference between it and lying is immaterial) during temple recommend interviews when asked to confirm their beliefs. It will cause increasing number of Mormon young people to enter a baffling world of grey as they begin to understand their parents’ ambivalent position regarding religious belief, practise, what it means to keep a promise and answers questions honestly, etc. This should be expected to cause a continued erosion Mormon community’s moral fabric.

On a lighter note, these same forces will continue to cause ironies like currently serving Mormon Bishops who consult with people like me regarding how they should counsel faithful Mormons about issues related to sexual morality, sexual practises within marriage, masturbation, whether young people or mature couples should serve missions, etc. These Bishops tell me that they don’t dare discuss these questions with their Stake Presidents or other Mormon file leaders because they are out of touch with the reality related to these issues, and in any event discussions of that kind would require the revelation of the Bishop’s heterodox beliefs. Bishops of this kind are usually closet heretics who believe that they can do more good “from the inside” walking what one such man eloquently labelled the “path of inner darkness”, then they can from the outside.

The Choice

The concept that the theory and data summarized above brings into sharp focus for me can be summarized as follows:

• The influence of the group is over each individual member’s perception of reality is far more powerful that most of us realize.

• Social groups tend to take much longer than we assume to accept even easily understandable realities.

• Social groups can take centuries to grasp things like the importance of science in general while suffering terrible deteriorations in their standard of living and imposing particularly cruel and arbitrary hardships on the weaker members of their group such as women, gay persons, etc.

• Those who reject the majority scientific view tend to make worse decisions with regard to a host of important issues than those who accept science on this basis.

• The world is increasingly divided into groups that choose to accept the best wisdom science has to offer, and those who don’t.

• Once socialized to a particular worldview (science accepting or science rejecting), many people are unable to change and the influence of parents on this process declines radically once children reach their teens.

Accordingly, I should expect that two decisions I make will echo for generations in my family. The first is how openly I will teach my children about how find wisdom and make decisions. That is, when should we give science primacy over religious dogma; where do we find the foundations of moral reasoning; etc. And the second, and by far the most important, is my choice of a social group or groups with which I choose to associate and cause my children to associate and how that group either supports or contradicts what I teach my children about how to find wisdom and make decisions.

The decision to distance oneself from Mormonism is hard. Great sacrifices are required of many who go that route. I have attempted to outline above what is at stake and why great sacrifices are usually justified. While I could never know enough about another person’s circumstances to weigh the costs and benefits in her case, I think it is reasonable to say that in most cases the benefits easily justify the costs; that our fears are overblown; that we do not know enough about what awaits us on the outside to understand how much we and our loved ones have to gain by starting a new life; and that most talk of “letting the kids make up their own minds” and “making personal sacrifices to avoid hurting my wife, my parents, etc.” are rationalizations for avoiding the personal discomfort required to take arrows in the back while leaving the Mormon community and facing the uncertainty of forming new relationships (see Lee Kirkpatrick, “Attachment, Evolution and the Psychology of Religion” or Steven Hassan, “Releasing the Bonds”, for a summary of why leaving a close-knit religious group should be expected to be extremely difficult).

I will conclude with a note that I received last seek from someone with whom I started to correspond last summer.

“February 7, 2006


Just going through some of my old email and came across this one [a note I sent to him in the summer of 2006 answering some questions for him and trying to put an obviously anxious person at ease by sharing my experience with him].

So much has changed since then. Life is like a whole different reality since leaving the LDS Church. I am so much happier and have found a relationship with God that I never knew possible. It continues to grow and develop each day. I continue to search and learn of spiritual truth and hope to one day completely understand it all. However, I know now to seek God in trying to understand God. I certainly value the opinions of others but I never take for granted what they are saying and always seek to verify or dispel what they are telling me.

I just wanted to take a moment and let you know how much your writings and common sentiments gave me the courage to explore what I needed to.

Again, thank you and I hope this note finds you in good spirits and God's blessings.


Sharing this kind of thing is useful in my view because it illustrates how quickly the world can move from dark to light when one has the courage to press ahead at a time when it is terrifying to do that.

I note that I do not necessarily agree with the beliefs this fellow now has, but do not generally do more in email exchanges than you see here. I make my thoughts available for what they are worth, and if that is useful to someone, great.


Well-informed Mormons have to tough choice to make that should be expected to profoundly influence their families for generations to come. If they remain within a conservative, irrational social group, ignorance and difficulty for their family are likely to follow for a long time. And if they leave that group, they are likely to experience significant discomfort but more importantly, they must face the terrifying prospect of disagreeing with their dominant social group. Throughout most of human history, it usually meant death to do this and our biology was set up on that basis.

As is the case with most decisions, perspective is often what is required to overcome fear and make good decisions. I hope the perspective in this essay is useful to some who read it.
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How Far Can We See?
Monday, Feb 20, 2006, at 08:46 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. Arthur Schopenhauer,


I try to help my children see how wonderful and deep our experience with this world of ours can be and don’t feel that I get through to them that well. The occasional hint that a bit of message is sinking in keeps me going. I am also encouraged by research that indicates that what our children observe us do is more important than what we tell them about basic attitudes toward life. So, I will continue to relish my own experience and attempt to share my enthusiasm with them as I can.

I was recently struck by a few parallels between the difficulties I must overcome as I try to teach my children the importance of perspective in general and some of the basic problems I see within Mormonism, and want to note those before the slip through the increasingly rickety information processing system that is my brain. I will conclude that Mormon belief tends to limit perspective, hence creating an additional challenge for those who are trying to excite Mormons about the kind of thing this essay describes.

The main idea I am trying to get through to my children is that a great deal of what matters to most people about life is determined by the breadth of their perspective – how far they can see. This in turn is determined primarily by three things:

• access to information;

• perspective building habits that determine the degree to which they consistently spend time using that access to broaden their point of view; and

• the number of ideas they generate and put into use.

Only a modest amount of intelligence is required, thank goodness. The bulk of us in the “average” range have more than enough brainpower to live highly productive, satisfying lives.

Access to Information

We are awash in information. The key is to find the desire to access it, and to learn how to do that. This requires the development of a few basic skills. Each of these helps determine how far we can see in ways as important as the telescope, microscope, maps, the printing press and other important innovations did for prior generations. Some of these skills are new, but most are old.

• Interpretation. This sounds silly perhaps, but reading in one language is still the backbone of communication. Those who read widely have a broader context within which to understand and work with ideas. They also have better writing and speaking skills since the nature of language is drilled into us as we read. Kids are most likely to read what interests them. One of our sons owes his ability to read to Calvin and Hobbes. Another to Harry Potter. We read to them when they were small, and try to find the magic bullet for them as they get older – whatever will catch their interest and get them reading on their own. I used the word “interpretation” though because as we mature we find all kinds of other important sources of information. How well we listen and ask question as we network informally at the office, in the community and at home determines our access to important sources of information. One of my most successful clients does not read a lot, but spends hours every day on the cell phone trading information with his network of business associates and friends. He stays amazingly well informed about the critical issues relevant to his business primarily through this means. This unorthodox style would not suit most business owners, but in his niche it not only works, but works extremely well. As we learn more about our culture we read the tea leaves of which books sell, which headlines appear and which don’t, how others around us react to movies, which aspects of our artistic heritage fall in and out of favour, etc. Each of these functions involves absorbing and interpreting information of various types.

• Expression. This includes expressing ourselves through symbols whether spoken, written, drawn or otherwise. The most basic skill in this regard will for the foreseeable future be writing. Many commentators have noted how the internet is changing our culture in this regard. More people are writing more words than ever. And we are not talking about a moderate upward trend. This is a leap of many orders of magnitude. Much of this communication might be regarded as pointless. The same can be said of most speech. But most written communication is good exercise. When combined with lots of reading, this can be expected to naturally develop talent. I encourage our kids to email their friends and to develop groups of friends that extend around the world. As we meet people from other places and I see the sparks of friendship in the air, I try to facilitate internet friendships. Most of my efforts are fruitless. But occasionally something good has resulted.

• Science literacy. Science has always been important and will become increasingly so as communications technologies continue to dominate the creation of culture as well as economics, and the merger of technology and biology reshape life on more levels than we can now imagine. Many of the most important social, financial, political and moral opportunities and pitfalls during the foreseeable future will have large scientific components. Even those who are not inclined toward a career in the sciences are foolish to neglect that part of their education. I have a library full of science related books and encourage our kids, to no avail so far, to read them. However, as I read I regularly come across ideas that I know will interest them and this leads to conversation. Helen Fisher’s research related to how men and women signal sexual interest to each other lit up one daughter recently. A son was fascinated by the most recent speculation as to how a meteor approaching earth could not be prevented from hitting us and how that cataclysm would likely play out, step by grisly step. Another was interested in how groups make decisions that are wiser in many cases than what their wisest members are capable of.

• Basic computer and Internet skills. It is not hard to convince kids to become Internet literate. It is more challenging to get them excited about how to use this tool find information. We try to use school assignments for this. But more importantly, I ask my kids questions and then encourage then to use the Internet to find answers in the same fashion I do. And when they come to me with questions, I walk them through the process I use to find information including the interesting side trips that often come up while I am researching ideas that interest me.

I characterize these skills as access to high peaks with great views; or to powerful telescopes that allow us to see what is coming or where we are doing; etc.

Perspective Building Habits

The longer I live the clearer it becomes that we respond primarily to necessity. Some necessities are more obvious and powerful than others. We need food, water, safety, sleep, etc. and will do almost anything to meet our needs in this regard. Less obvious but equally important needs include intimacy of various kinds, the approval of others in our social groups, opportunities to “self actualize”, etc.

We are likely to do things on a regular basis only if we perceive them to be necessary. And many of the activities that we prefer and that are readily available to us have an anaesthetizing quality, such as most television watching, some computer use and certain kinds of food and drug consumption. On the other hand, other activities that are extremely important and enjoyable once we are engaged in them seem like work to us and are avoided.

For example, Martin Seligman (see “Authentic Happiness”) and other researchers have shown that depression in adults and children is strongly correlated with large amounts of unstructured leisure time and insufficient hours each day spent engaged in challenging activities that require high levels of concentration. Ironically, the adults and children who are not depressed and have the kind of challenges in their lives that would predict mental health tend to say that they wish they had more unstructured time and fewer challenges.

The lesson in this research is that our instincts mislead us to a large degree both in terms of what we need to be happy, and what is likely to put us in a position to choose how we wish to spend our time. We can fight this be using other instincts that we know from our experience pulls in the opposite direction. For example:

• Rewards. Most of us don’t like exercising and yet feel good when we do it. One of our young sons regularly thanks me for cajoling him into getting onto our exercise equipment, and yet is hard to persuade him to do that. I am the same way myself – once working out I marvel at how good it feels and yet don’t do it as often as I should. So, our 11-year son gets paid to work out. Not much, but enough to get him a 30+ minute workout (once he is going he is happy to keep going) at least three times a week. Once this becomes a habit, it has a reasonable chance of continuing under its own steam. I see no problem with doing this for all kinds of things – reading books; writing book reports; earning awards at school including certain grade levels; etc.

• Groups. We are small group animals by evolution and so are powerfully influenced by the groups with which we associate. And there is lots of chance to choose to be associated with different groups. Kids who are on sports teams and have committed to do things that will help their team are far more likely to be active than other kids. The same applies to kids who are on the debate team, in the art or drama club, or involved in other group oriented activities, including those as low key as taking an evening ceramics class. While I am taking a class of any kind I am far more likely to spend my free time doing things related to what I am learning in that class, and much of what I choose to do will be derived from cues I take from other people in the class. That is, I tend to become a bit more like the people in my class as long as I continue to associate with them. So, if I want to make progress in the development any kind of skill all I have to do is sign up for a series of classes and try to meet and hang outwith other people who have some of the talents I want to cultivate.

• Competition. If we are committed to doing something, we tend to invest energy in becoming better at it. As soon as our kids are join a sports team or start attending karate or dance class, it is amazing how quickly we see their behaviour spontaneously chance to spend time working on whatever skills their activity requires. In my case, if I commit to play in a golf tournament several weeks off, I will end up at the course to practise even though the tournament does not mean anything. As the worst student in an art class I feel a special motivation to improve myself and see ample evidence around me of what I can expect if I keep practising and taking courses since I know how long some of the other students have been at it. This principle can be used to motivate all kinds of behaviour.

• Feedback. Activities that allow us to measure our progress tend to more interesting to us and easier to stick with. This is one of the reasons that computer games seem addictive. Each player can find a “level” of the game that is appropriate to his skill level; the game gives him constant feedback as to how well he is doing; and as his skill level improves he can ratchet up the way in which the game challenges him. For years we had a Karaoke machine in our home that was seldom used. Then one of the kids computer game consoles came with some software that allowed Karaoke to the “played” like a game. A track would appear on the screen that showed when the singer’s voice was on, and off, key. And the audience response (cheering and booing) both followed the on and off key pattern, and could be programmed to various levels from novice to expert. Our kids and their friends immediately started to make heavy use of this game. I have noticed that the karate lessons are kids take use this structure. The constant feedback from the instructor and progression through the belt levels performs this function. What I have learned coaching kids sports also indicates the importance of this principle. The more feedback mechanisms we can incorporate into an activity the more likely it is that we will stick with it.

There are many other similar concepts but I am running out of time and so will stop here. The key concept is that we need to understand the environment that will cause us to feel either a need or desire to engage in the activities in which we have decided we wish to engage. Each of the perspective expanding activities to which I referred above can be made the subject of rewards, connected to group or competitive activities, become the subject of feedback, etc. Increasingly we find our groups, competition and feedback from internet based communities or even computer simulation.

Idea Generation and Action

A recent study showed that success in the scientific and academic communities and IQ of above 125 did not correlate to success in terms of publishing papers, registers patents, etc. However, the consistent production of ideas did correlate with success. Even the smartest among us have a relatively few ideas that are really good. Hence, those who regularly produce ideas and then work on them over time turn a small percentage of a large number of ideas into success. Those who produce a small number of ideas and work with them have the same kind of success in percentage terms and so accomplish far less than their more prolific peers.

This concept is connected to perspective because many of the ideas we come across as we build our perspective can only be useful if acted upon. For example, I discovered a while ago a line of research that suggested that getting involved in an artistic activity would be helpful to me as I continued to find my way through the post-Mormon world. Reading and thinking about that idea was of limited use. Taking an art course, however, turned out to be of great use (see We live through the integration of what we learn with the things we choose to do. We are part idea and part action. Either without the other is empty or even dangerous. The way we combine these elements of our life influences how we interact with other human beings; the kind of physical and mental exercise in which we engage (see; the kind of human groups to which we attach ourselves (see; etc.

Perspective Limiting Mormon Belief

All belief systems organize information, including beliefs, hierarchically. That is, some kinds of information are less important than others.

The Mormon system has at the top of its belief pyramid the idea that there is a God who has mandated certain human behaviours, and those who obey His rules will receive immensely important advantages both during life and after death. The basic ideas related to these beliefs are not disprovable or legitimately questionable. For example, when Mormon and non-Mormon scientists recently used DNA evidence to question the Book of Mormon’s assertion that the Amerindians are descendants of a group of people who came to the Americas from Jerusalem, the Mormon Church responded by indicating that, "We would hope that church members would not simply buy into the latest DNA arguments being promulgated by those who oppose the church for some reason or other" (see The implication that a scientist who points out that an assertion of fact (Amerindians areof Hebrew stock) contradicts the extant data must is opposing the Mormon Church for some unknown and presumably illegitimate reason is classically Mormon, and laughable from a scientific point of view.

In the fashion just indicated, any information that purports to question Mormon beliefs must by definition, within the Mormon system, be incorrect. Since information produced by science and the scholarly study of history questions many Mormon beliefs, science and the other scholars are wrong to this extent no matter how persuasive they evidence they put forward may appear. This perception of scholarly unreliability and bad will cannot help but diminish the stature of the scientific and scholarly community in most Mormon eyes. This is why many well educated Mormons, like me, do not take science seriously and are hence both poorly informed and apathetic with regard to many issues that require an understanding of science to be appreciated, such as our population and ecological crises.

In addition, Mormons believe that God has seen the future and is in control of a plan for this Earth that includes its termination “soon”. Mormons have believed that the end was to come “soon” since Joseph Smith’s day. All we can do is make sure we are obedient so that whether we end before the earth or it before us, we will pass into God’s presence. This focus on obedience to Mormon authority instead of learning how human behaviour impacts other humans and the Earth drains human energy away from tasks that are critically important, such as educating ourselves and others with regard to the importance of these issues while changing our behaviour as well as that of other people.

Finally, Mormonism requires a large percentage of its members discretionary time. This intensifies at age 14 when young Mormons begin to attend “Seminary”. These daily religious education classes, along with Sunday and weekday evening activities, condition and socially isolate to a degree those who participate in them. And in most parts of the world outside Utah, Seminary is held before school leading many Mormon teenagers to suffer from sleep deprivation. A Mormon sapped of time and energy is a Mormon less likely to be interested in learning anything that might question her faith, or anything at all that she does not really need to learn, for that matter.

As a result, Mormonism both limits perspective and makes many healthy activities related to learning less likely. This is ironic because one of Mormonism’s stated fundamental principles is that Christ’s message (or gospel) embraces all truth, no matter its source. Hence, from the Mormon point of view as soon as “truth” shows up, it will be embraced. This makes it sound like Mormonism should encourage the development of a broad perspective. Practically speaking, however, this principle means that what is not embraced by Mormon authorities cannot be truth. Here we find the root of most Mormon problems. Mormon authorities will not accept anything as truth that may question their authority, such as the powerfully persuasive evidence that indicates the Book of Mormon to be a 19th century production instead of ancient history. The Mormon leaders’ protection of this insignificant piece of turf has spoiled what could have been a religion that embraced a no holds barred pursuit of truth.

Accordingly, when trying to persuade a Mormon to expand her perspective the challenges I noted above regarding my children are multiplied. We still have to deal with all the instincts that pulls toward mind numbing, depressing activities. We still have to find ways to create a sense of desire or necessity regarding the activities we want them understand. And we face scepticism regarding the usefulness of science and apathy towards important actions that is caused by the belief that we are in God’s hands in the end anyways. This makes a challenging job even tougher.


I think it is fair to say that Mormon belief tends to limit perspective, and hence that Mormons tend not to be able to see as far as other similarly educated non-Mormons. As I continue to try to teach my children to see, I will accordingly continue to remove the scales from their and my eyes that were carefully put there by generations of well intentioned Mormon leaders and family members.
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On Apologetics - Short Enough I Hope - Even For Mormon Apologists To Read Right To The End
Monday, Feb 20, 2006, at 08:39 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-

"Apologetics" is the systematic defence of a position (see regardless of its legitimacy. Apologetics usually start from the proposition that a truth has been found and must be defended. Hence, dogma (see is found at the root of most apologetic enterprises.

Apologetics can also be understood as the opposite of real scholarly pursuit. Scholars seek understanding with regard to the real, the beautiful, the useful, etc. Science has proven to be the most reliable branch of scholarship in terms of its ability to help us understand what is real and how relationships between real things work by way of theory formation and testing by experiment. Not surprisingly, as the study of science and history progresses they often contradicts dogma. This brings scientists and other scholars into conflict with apologetists who generally masquerade as scholars since that enhances their credibility. Academic institutions like Brigham Young University regularly lose credibilty with their peers as a result of their so-called scholars participating in apolgetic endeavors. An apologist in academic robes wears a particularly offensive form of sheeps clothing.

When I read religious apologetics of any kind I am bothered by a vertiginous feeling. This is largely the result of the need apologists have to obscure the evidence scientists and other scholars unearth that contradicts the dogma that apologists must defend. The purpose of this essay is to outline how the apologetic enterprise works in this regard.

How Many Hills Named "Cumorah" Are There?

To understand what I mean, consider a Mormon classic - the so-called “two Cumorahs” theory. This explains why Joseph Smith received the golden plates at a hill he referred to as “Cumorah” in upstate New York which has been found to be an extremely unlikely candidate for the events that are believed by Mormons to have literally occurred there. Since the alternative to finding a second location for these events was to admit that the Book of Mormon is fictive, Mormon scholars have brought us the "two Cumorahs theory", as lucidly described at This is closely connected to another masterpiece of logic, known as the “limited geography theory” of the Book of Mormon (see

Aside from contradicting nearly two centuries of Mormon prophetic statements, these theories would have us accept that the Book of Mormon events were played out in area of Central America that is small enough that it has not yet been discovered, and yet large and populous enough for battles that killed millions of people to have been fought there, and unusual in that it was the most scientifically and culturally advanced place in the Americas for most of about 1,000 years. And then, God moved the gold plates that told the history of this people to New York where Joseph Smith could find them without telling Joseph about on this, leaving him to believe that the epic described in the Book of Mormon was played out across the length and breadth of America and that all Amerindians as well as Polynesians were the literal descendents of the people the Book of Mormon says immigrated to the Americas from Jerusalem.

Are Mormon Apologists Unique?

Other religions do no better. Go read some Young Earth Creationist drivel (God put dinosaur bones in the Earth to test our faith), the Muslim apologists (Muslims own a toll booth on the only road to heaven and if you disagree they are justified in killing you), the Jehovah’s Witnesses explanation for their leaders numerous failed prophecies that Christ would return to Earth on specific dates (God is just testing them), etc. This stuff all comes from the same place – the desire to prevent ideas from changing and most importantly, to preserve the power that depends upon these ideas. And note the “God is just testing us” theme. When the going gets really tough, that argument is the last resort. Look for it to appear in Mormon apologetic discourse with increasing frequency.

The Worse the Alternatives Look, the Fewer Will Leave

Did I mention that I feel dizzy when I venture into any apologist's lair? This is because much of the apologetic effort is directed toward making any alternative to their cherished beliefs hard to understand, and fearful, so that people will not change their beliefs or behavior. Attachment theory explains why this strategy is a good idea for religious organizations who want to survive and prosper. That is, religion causes its believers to become dependant on its ideas and the social groups it sponsors, and then makes all alternatives look as risky and dangerous as possible. Things that are hard to understand are easy to make look risky and dangerous. The fear this causes triggers our attachment instinct, which drives us into the arms of the people and institutions to which we have become attached as a result of our life experience to that point. There are no evil gnomes sitting around and planning this stuff. It is just how humans in groups function. Nothing is clearer from a reading of religious and political history than this.

Evidence Gets in the Way

Another way to understand this process is to remember that science became what we think of as science when it began to test ideas against evidence. Tycho Brahe was one of the leaders in this regard. He measured the position of the planets and stars more carefully than anyone before laying the groundwork for the revolution of humanities understanding of their place in the universe. While carefully measurement of reality sounds like common sense to us, it was an Earth shaking innovation in his day. Until then, the unencumbered-by-evidence use of premises (basic ideas) assumed to be true and logic enabled the smartest people on the planet to reach pretty much any conclusion they wanted about religion, cosmology, or anything else. This caused questions like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin to occupy an amazing amount of serious scholarly time for centuries. And today, the Mormon belief system makes logical sense if you accept the basic ideas that there is a God of a particular kind who created us and had us come to Earth as the Mormon Plan of Salvation indicates. Accept those ideas (and they are drilled deep into young Mormons), and the rest makes a lot of sense.

Since modern apologists must persuade people who generally believe that the facts are important and we should compare the evidence to what the theory predicts, they need to find ways to minimize the importance of evidence that conflicts with their theory. The limited geography theory is a great example of how this works. Mormon apologists solve the evidence v. theory problem here in two ways.

Change the Theory

First, they change the theory without batting an eye. Two centuries of Mormon prophets, including Joseph Smith, simply misunderstood reality and what God had communicated them, and consistently misled their followers by statements about where Book of Mormon events occurred, who was literally descended from Book of Mormon peoples, etc. Opps. Why would God allow that to happen? To test us maybe?

The logic works like this. Prophets make mistakes. The Bible shows that. So, we should expect prophets to be wrong about some things. However, we must assume that in every case where a prophet has not been proven wrong that he was speaking God’s own truth, regardless of how many times we have found him to be unreliable or even flat out lying to us. Sounds like a sensible way to live, doesn’t it? Why would God put us in such a hard position? Life is full of such tests for the faithful, of all stripes it turns out when you start looking at how other religions work.

I bet people who think like this get taken advantage of a lot. Let’s check the data. Sure enough, Utah hosts more con artists per capita (as measured by rates of financial fraud and multi-level marketing companies) than any other US state.

Duck into a Post Modern Rabbit Hole

Second, Mormon apologists question the ability of scientific and historical analysis to tell us anything upon which we should rely if it contradicts Mormon beliefs. They resort to various versions of post-modern theory in this regard. History, science, etc. are not that reliable. No evidence of wheels, horses, steel, etc. in the Americas? How can anyone be certain about things like that? And maybe the “most correct of any book on Earth” (see used a kind of complicated code to communicate its sacred and all important message. “Steel” really meant “obsidian” or “copper”. “Horse” really meant “tapir”. Etc. Or maybe God is testing us?

I need to stop thinking about this for a minute. My head is starting to hurt.

And since some facts will be proved beyond doubt, what does a “fact” mean anyway? How can we ever know anything except what we experience in the moment? And what that experience means is a private experience. So if you feel good about your experience, you should not change it. Using this theory, it is possible to chase one's tail down any number of post-modern rabbit holes and find oneself having an earnest conversation with the Queen of Hearts, or Joseph Smith for that matter.

The use of extreme post-modernism is the friend of anyone who wants to resist the tide of evidence against her position. It was invented after all, by humanities profs who were sick and tired of the way the "hard" sciences were talking over the academic and cultural world. Alan Sokal showed those guys (see

Harness the Human Fear of Leaving the Dominant Social Group

Most people (even those who are abused) feel good enough about their social experience that they are not easily persuaded to leave their dominant social group. Humans seem to have been designed that way because our connection to a social group was so important to our survival. Hence, the "we can't really know what is going on - you'd better stay were you feel secure" approach plays nicely into the hands of social groups who are trying to slow down defections. Mormons use this approach against those who criticize them, as do other Christian groups against the marauding Mormon missionaries who seek converts wherever they can be found.

When the overall apologetic game comes into focus it would be pretty entertaining if it did not leave such carnage in its wake – retarded minds; broken marriages and families; damaged friendships; planes that fly into buildings; riots over cartoons published thousands of miles away; etc.

It is both comical and tragic to see science and history denying post-modern ideas walking arm in arm down the street with the Mormon position that Joseph Smith received God’s exclusive authority and absolute truth from God and all humankind who hears this message must either accept it, become Mormon and start to obey Mormon authority or miss countless blessings both while living and after death.

Sounds kind of complicated, doesn’t it. Are you feeling dizzy yet?

This Is Complicated Stuff

It is not easy to apologize for beliefs like the Mormon, Muslim, JW, young earth creationist in a fashion that will be acceptable to even a conservative community that badly wants to continue to believe. Hence, the nature of the task requires smart people with a taste for labyrinthine argument. And it is no surprise that apologists can be counted on to come at the most simple of concepts from odd angles in order to show how hard to understand they "really" are.

For example, take the proposition that the Book of Mormon, like so many other similar pieces of religious literature, was made up to look ancient so that it would be more persuasive. There is an extremely high probability, once all of the relevant evidence is considered, that this is the case. Non-Mormon scholars who study in this are believe that this is as incontrovertible as the idea that the Holocaust occurred more or less as the mainstream historians say it did, or that many well intentioned people are deluded in their belief that they have been visited by aliens.

What Would the Bishop of Occam, or Don King, Say?

I was reminded of the apologetic approach to life a short time ago while reading an entertaining piece in Sports Illustrated - a summary of a recent New York Friars Club roast of the fight promoter Don King. For King, it was said, the simplest truth requires no less than a three rail bank shot. I would say the same of Wieseltier and his ilk.

While Occam's Razor (see's_...) is not a hard and fast rule, I think it is fair to say that when you run across people who serially, flagrantly and consistently violate it, you should keep one hand on your wallet and use liberal amounts of salt before ingesting anything. Nowhere is this truer than around religious apologists of any stripe.


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The Future Of Mormon Apologetics And Mormonism
Wednesday, Feb 22, 2006, at 07:34 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
Where is Mormon Apologetics (and Mormonism) Headed?

The Internet and Persuasion

Apologetics is all about persuasion. What it takes to persuade a group of people depends on the state of their knowledge related to their subject, how many viable courses of action they have relative to the question at hand, and a variety of other things.

The Internet has become such a pervasive influence in our lives that it is the place to start if we wish to predict where Mormon apologetics, or Mormonism itself, is headed. As a result of the Internet, Mormons see their beliefs against a much broader set of information than ever. And this information set will continue to expand. Hence, the kind of naïve faith that has sustained most Mormons to this point will become increasingly rare, and will have to be chosen instead of being the usual case. Consider, for example, what has happened during the past few years regarding DNA research as it concerns Mormonism. The necessity of dealing with increasingly well informed members and potential converts will cause the LDS and other formerly isolated cultures to mutate more rapidly than ever as they attempt to retain their grip on each new generation of members who are ingesting loads of information that may not affect their well-conditioned parents, but will deeply affect them.

And now, I will prophesy. Unlike Mormon Prophets, I do not fear being wrong, and can comfortably express myself in probabilistic terms. I will then forget about this until someone reminds me years from now either how right, or how wrong, I now am.

In the Internet age, more believers are going to get to know their apologists and the line between apologist and believer, along with countless other lines, will be blurred. This does not mean that Mormons will suddenly become adventuresome and head for the border of their faith community in droves. Rather, it means that the border is moving toward them. It is no longer at some distant frontier. Rather, it is a vast area accessible at the click of a mouse, spilling out of news headlines, beckoning from Oprah’s magazine and, in areas where Mormonism is a significant social force (like most of the Western US), being talked about by co-workers over coffee.

Apologists are those who have seen beyond the border of their belief system and feel compelled to defend it. It used to be necessary to make a long journey in the company of a few elites to the place where this could be done. Now a wrong turn at the end of the driveway and bang – there you are in the middle of No-Mans-Land. And if you catch a glimpse of more than a few of the carefully hooded faces in the crowds teeming there, you are likely to be surprised by someone you know. They will be either muttering and shaking their heads in astonishment, or more surprising yet, saying things that imply a breadth of knowledge and heterodox belief that you could not have imagine in them. People will go to the borderlands to relax, learn, express themselves, be themselves. You may even run into Mom or Dad; Grandpa or Grandma there, checking out the new, speaking openly about what they think or chatting with far flung friends.

The New Apologists

I predict that a new kind of LDS apologist will result from democratization of knowledge and influence that the Internet is causing within Mormonism as elsewhere. This apologist will not be on average as extreme or strident as her predecessors. There will be many more “hers” in this genre than ever. And there will be a far broader range of apologetic opinion than we have seen. Institutions like BYU and FARMS will continue to be influential, but the “blogosphere” and whatever emerges from cyberspace next will play increasingly important roles in defining the opinions that matter within Mormonism and what springs up to trouble Mormon leaders from the grassroots. Increasingly, what makes sense will be repeated first in whispers and then openly and then will have to be dealt with somehow. The leaders power will decline. The people’s influence will increase.

This trend will create a new form of de facto Internet based group of General Authorities whose ideas will be quoted but for a while yet not attributed to anyone, or perhaps to some vaguely referenced “general authority” or “the scriptures”. What they say makes so much sense that it must be in the scriptures somewhere; or surely someone in authority said this. These faceless authorities might be called the Quorum of Plenty.

The rule that lessons and talks given in Church must use as their only information sources the scriptures will be flagrantly, consistently and quietly broken. But the scriptures will generally, at least for a while, be the only sources quoted.

The coming apologetic influence will probably take Mormonism down a path well worn long ago by Jews, Catholics and various Protestant groups. While travelling this road, apologetic theories like two (or however many) Cumorahs will quickly become laugh (or shiver) getters even at faithful Mormon gatherings on the rare occasion that they are mentioned at all. And they won’t be mentioned to non-Mormons at all by the few who are aware of them. Kind of like marrying other mens wives and ankle to wrist length wool garments designed to enable sexual intercourse without removal (shiver).

The Internet Crowd Will Be A Tougher Sell for Apologists

This new crowd of apologists will quickly and of necessity focus on themes that make sense to the average Mormon and his non-Mormon acquaintenances since he will be increasingly likely to need to defend the weak spots in his belief system while doing his missionary duty or chit chatting around the water cooler about the latest LA Times (or whatever) piece regarding how little sense Mormonism “used to make”. That was the “old way of thinking about Mormonism”.

This dynamic will change what flies and what does not in the apologetic world. No longer will we have a small group of elites speaking from their ivory tower to a few of the faithful below who are terrified about what they have just heard concerning Joseph Smith’s sexual predations or the Book of Mormon’s rickety historicity. The bafflegab that has dominated Mormon apologetics to date worked when preaching to those, and only those, who wanted to believe. But try that stuff around the water cooler or during a potential “missionary experience” and see if your buddies can keep a straight face. This is the force that will reshape Mormon apologetics.

I refer again to Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds”. He makes a compelling case for the way in which a large, diverse group with access to abundant information quickly tends to produce the most efficient solution available to any problem. So, remembering that necessity is what causes most evolutionary change, let’s restate the apologetic problem in its Internet context and think about what the relatively well-informed non-Mormon crowd that will be interacting with their Mormon friends about the legitimacy of Mormonism is likely to cause.

As stated above, Mormons have their beliefs, they know that they are true, and recognize subconsciously at least that the very nature of their community depends on these truths, which confirms the idea that they must be true. And now those beliefs are being challenged by allegations that Joseph Smith was untrustworthy, the Book of Mormon seems less and less likely to tell a real story, and Mormon leaders past and present seem more error and deception prone the closer we look. What to do?

More and more Mormons will be disturbed by the cold reception theories like “two Cumorahs” and “limited geography” get from their acquaintenances. “If it is probably not true, then why do you believe it?” will be the repeated and increasingly troubling question from well-meaning friends and relatives. The crowd will sniff this out in a heart beat. And the crowd will not be impressed with the credentials of religious studies “scholars” at BYU, and after just a little googling will find all kinds of unflattering things said about them by other religious studies scholars. And not just the usual scholarly sniping, but allegations that they are not scholars at all. Their peers – respected people like Douglas Davies of England’s University of Durham – will say that some people from BYU are merely evangelists pretending to be scholars. And after hearing about two (or three) Cumorahs, that won’t be a hard sell for most non-scholars.

Which Approaches Are Likely to Work?

So, what are the alternative approaches to this problem? As noted above, various kinds of post-modernism could be used to say that we can’t really know anything. The crowd will instantly turn that one back on the poor Mormons, with a perhaps polite but nonetheless stinging recognition of its hypocrisy. “If nothing is certain, how can you be certain enough about your beliefs that I should pay any attention to them?” Next.

It is a surprising small step from “nothing is certain” to “everything is metaphor”, and given how many respectable religions have already gone that route, that is where I expect a large slice of Mormonism to end up. I was recently advised of a Stake Conference in which the members were told that when praying about the Book of Mormon, they should not ask whether its facts and details were literally true, but rather whether the message it teaches about Christ is true. I heard of another Stake Conference at which Joseph Smith’s polyandry was discussed, and the members were told that this was Joseph’s Abrahamic test – that he went to the beds of the many women who offered themselves sexually to him with the same kind of heavy heart that Abraham mythically bore as he carried Isaac to a presumed sacrifice. That is, Mormon leaders are beginning to assume that the members will know of the troubling aspects of Mormon history, and are beginning to create a narrative that will explain troubling facts in a way that themembers may be prepared to accept. I expect to see and hear more of this kind of thing.

I note as an apologetic aside regarding Joseph Smith’s alleged Abrahamic and sexual test, that this kind of excuse has a long pedigree. For example, in the 1600s a Jewish rabbi names Sabbetai Zevi rose to prominence (see and due to his charisma and many signs and wonders that were perceived by his followers to accompany his ministry, he was accepted by many as the Messiah. As 1666 approached, one of the many years during history that Christians have predicted for the second coming of Christ, Zevi travelled to Turkey and said that the Sultan would give up his throne to him because he was the Messiah. Instead, the Sultan threw Zevi into jail and told him that the had three alternatives. He could prove his claims by performing a miracle, convert to Islam or suffer death. Zevi promptly proclaimed his allegiance to Allah. His followers, for a time at least, held onto their faith on the basis that Zevi was descending into the darkest pits of hell to redeem the last sparks of light that might reside there before ascending to his throne of Messiahship. They waited, with waning hopes, until he died for him to do something that would merit is former claims to Messiahship. After his death, some still believed on the basis of increasingly metaphysical claims.

Faith, false or not, dies a slow, hard death. I don’t doubt that with a bit of scratching around we could find those who still believe Sabbetai Zevi’s claim to Messiahship.

In any event, there is a halfway house between Mormon literalism and metaphor that will be filled for at least one, and likely two to three, generations. This will be required to allow those who have the virulent, literalist form Mormon belief in their bones to die off as their children and grandchildren mature without it. This is the tricky stage, but Mormonism handled it with regard to polygamy’s revocation (or was the suspension? – I am still confused) and can handle it here as well.

For the halfway house to work, there must be as little talk as possible – pro or con – about literalist Mormon beliefs in order to allow time for them to be forgotten. I regularly run into one approach now that with a bit of a push would do this. It is a variant on the “experience trumps all” idea described above. It would work like this.

Instead of refusing to talk about how many Cumorahs there are or what Joseph Smith’s lying means in terms of Mormon foundations, these would be deemed childish, unimportant questions and would be ignored. Those who insist on asking them would be labelled “superficial” and “naïve”, and pointed to the Catholics, Anglicans, Jews and others with disastrous histories while being reminded that many people in these communities live satisfying lives that are enriched by the religious belief and community involvement despite a problematic religious history. The only questions would dealing with would concern how we can better experience and enjoy life today; how various Mormon community functions and rituals (yes, including the temple rituals) correlate to Buddhist and other healthy individual and social-psychological habits, and how other similar habits can be incorporated into Mormonism since all truth belongs to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These issues would be made to attract as much as possible of the attention Mormons, post-Mormons and non-Mormons have to dedicate to Mormonism.

The good news regarding this approach to Mormon apologetics is that it will likely cause Mormons to lose, eventually, their “one true church” arrogance. Again, this is a well trodden path. History beat this idea our of most Catholics and Jews ages ago.

I don’t expect Mormon leaders to get on this bandwagon. They will still ask for, and take, all of the time, energy, money and obedience they can from their faithful. However, a larger percentage of the faithful as time passes will use their religion instead of being used by it.

Many Mormons will for a long time suffer from the rationalization that will be required to answer temple recommend questions and behave in a manner that does not conform to temple covenants (like the one that requires 100% obedience to Mormon authority). However, once fully on board the metaphor train, this can be done. And many Mormons will have no trouble rationalizing this the best of available alternatives. It is still my view that it is morally corrosive to treat in metaphoric terms questions that are stated literally and understood to be intended literally by the person asking them. But again, for Mormons this will be for the most part considered to be the lesser of evils to the extent it is considered at all. Eventually, both the nature of the temple recommend questions and temple covenants will be toned down. But that is likely decades if not generations away.

Mormon Youth Strategies

In order to minimize the rate of change, I expect the Mormon Church to continue to pay special attention to its youth. For example, I expect to hear that young Mormons are overtly and covertly pressured to spend time exclusively with other Mormons so that they can be more effectively indoctrinated and conditioned. This will involve attendance at more and/or more professionally run, meetings and events (like “Especially for Youth”) where they can "feel the spirit" or as a sceptic might suggest, have their emotional buttons pushed and be conditioned.

I also expect young Mormons to spend more time learning the distinctive history of their people, and being taught to behave in ways that make them a socially distinct group. A General Authority once told me that that was what the Word of Wisdom was all about. It has nothing necessarily to do with health. It is a social marker. See Pascal Boyer, "Religion Explained" for a review of how social markers help to define and hold together groups of people. And, I expect young Mormons to be rewarded and punished in various ways for engaging in socially distinguishing behaviour (distinctive dress; distinctive eating or drinking habits; distinctive leisure activities; etc.) and for avoiding things that could challenge their beliefs, such as the Internet and certain other communications tools and forms of entertainment.

What Do Faithful Mormons Say?

After writing the initial part of my apologetics forecast, I decided to test it by reviewing posting patterns at LDS blogs and bulletin boards. This indicated that the Internet is bringing many newly troubled Mormons into contact with the boundary between belief and unbelief in the fashion just indicated.

Here are a few posts as, a bulletin board restricted to believing Mormons, that are typical (see and confirm the pattern I expected to find. Each paragraph represents a different person:

“People sometimes fail to realize that it's ALL interpretation. A hyper-literal reading of scripture is interpretation. A conclusion drawn from scientific fact is interpretation. Everything we believe is constantly being filtered through our imperfect human minds, and in the end, nobody has a perfect grasp of "the facts". Nobody. All we can do is trust our consciences about what is right, and where we should be, independent of the ebb and flow of doctrinal and scientific arguments.”

“I never go to anti-mormon sites. I have found over the years as I have studied personally and tried to find doctrinal answers to my questions through prayer, study of approved LDS materials and the general authorities that there have often, as you state, been discrepancies and moments of shock when my neat little perceptions and testimony about "Mormonism" has been challenged. The question I ask myself is do I still believe or do I throw everything I have ever believed out the window. I choose to do as [another poster] has suggested - I rely on faith and try to humble myself. I do not trust trite and easy answers but seek to feel the spirit to help me find my way. I focus on the Saviour and the clear and simple knowledge I have that He lives, that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I also rely on the many significant instances in my life when I have received witnesses by way of answers to prayers, experiences and blessings which also bear witness that the path I am on is the right one. Do I struggle from time to time? Yes. But I also cling to the fact that it is living the gospel and having faith in the gospel that brings me the most complete happiness, peace and joy. I have had two friends leave the Church over intellectual discoveries and discrepancies. One of whom I consider a very spiritual person. I don't believe her decision to leave was simple or trite but I am not sure that she was willing to keep searching for answers. Bottom line is that it is Heavenly Father, the Saviour and the Holy Ghost that ultimately provide the answers. Not men.”

And here the one that hits the nail most squarely on the head:

“I should add that I do believe the gospel is true. But, I lean much more heavily on faith now than I ever did before. I used to be very confident that I "knew" that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, that the Book of Mormon was the word of God, etc. I am more humble now. I have faith that the feelings and impressions I have and believe to come from the Spirit, really do come from the Spirit. I have faith that the good things that happen to me in my life are answers to prayers and blessings from God. I have faith that the transformation that takes place in me is the result of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I believe these things while acknowledging the possibility that my perceptions and way of organizing my experiences could be mistaken.”

The reason I like this is that it shows what I believe will be the critical transition for many Mormons. Ever since I can remember Mormon leaders have been telling us that what we believe from a religious point of view is a matter of faith, not intellect. So, just believe. However, most Mormons do not understand what that means. I certainly didn’t. As our friend above said, “I used to be very confident that I "knew" that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, that the Book of Mormon was the word of God, etc.” Me too.

The transition to humility just described is what is required when the rickety foundations of Mormon history and social practise come into view. That is where a bit of post-modern theory, plus a focus on current experience and how a person feels about that will become crucial. And the emphasis on current feeling and de-emphasis on history will eventually take it our of the discussion entirely. A few decades or generations after that, Mormons will be comfortable discussion their beliefs on a purely metaphoric basis while acknowledging that their history does not provide a factual basis for literal belief.

Religions grow up very slowly.

So, I expect Mormon leaders to continue broadcast their message as they have, but with the necessary additional twists that will be required to get average Mormons over the hump this man describes. That is, the leaders will include enough allusion in their speeches and writing to post-modern and phenomenological (the overriding importance of present experience - see terms that the apologists will be able to take it from there.

The way in which people like those whose words I have just quoted perceive Mormonism and the rest of their lives related to it makes the apologists’ job both more important and trickier. And more importantly, it will redefine the apologetic community.

This Is Progress

The changes that I see coming represent an improvement. This pleases me despite the fact that I would prefer to see Mormonism simply disappear and feel very happy with my decision to leave it. I think that the probability of a complete Mormon collapse (or over substantial collapse) is so small that it is not worth spending any time on. I am a pragmatist.

When all is said and done, there are only so many fingers to plug holes in a rapidly expanding dyke that restrains an even more rapidly rising information tide. Thus, for the next while, despite the efforts of apologists, cultural change within Mormonism will occur more rapidly than ever in the ways noted above. This will particularly be visible between generations as a result of the way in which children seem designed to reappraise their environment in fundamental ways. In reaction to this, a gradually shrinking percentage of the Mormon population will become ultra-"faithful". They will become the equivalent of the Ultra Orthodox Jews, or Taliban, and will be subject to all of the dangers each of those groups carry with them. And, an increasing number o these will continue to flee the secularism that they will see “infecting Mormonism”, and become fundamentalists of one kind or another. Regrettably, Mormon history and theology favors polygamist fundamentalism.
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How Solid Are Mormon Financial Foundations?; And How Much Does The Defection, Resignation Or Quiet Withdrawal Of One Tithepaying Member Matter?
Thursday, Feb 23, 2006, at 07:39 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
I think many people underestimate the impact of each Mormon resignations, declaration of inactivity or quiet withdrawal of financial and other dediction. I have done this analysis before but can’t find it so I will redo for your benefit and then post it to the bulletin board at the beginning of a new thread. This kind of analysis is particularly important when you think about the way in which “tipping points” work, as described by Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book by that title.

Mormonism depends on a far smaller financial base than is typically assumed. There are likely less than 120,000 adults on whom Mormon finances rely in the long term. I get to this number as follows:

· Start with the official membership of 12mm, though it is suspect.

· Less than half are active. Let’s say 5mm, as defined by attendance at more than one meeting per month (the “active member” definition when I was involved in LDS leadership).

· About half of those are adult. Let’s say 2.5mm.

· About half of those are in North America. Let’s say 1.25mm.

· About half of those are male - 600,000.

· Not all adults will be full time wage earners, and not all of them will be full tithe payers. If I had to guess, I would say that on average 75% of adult ward members who attended regularly and are significant wage earners were also full tithe payers. But many of those who are not full tithe payers pay some tithing, and so to err on the high side I will assume that all “active” adults who earn substantial wages pay a substantial amount of tithing.

· Most of the reasonable money makers, and hence tithing payers, are male. I would say that there are no more than 600,000 people who pay close to 10% of their income (calculated in any way you wish to rationalize it) to LDS Inc.. These would be about 400,000 males and 200,000 females.

· Something close to the Pareto principle (see likely applies here. This principle is based on the observation that in many populations things like income and wealth are distributed so that roughly 20% of the population has 80% of whatever you are looking at. This would suggest that in the Mormon population of its most important tithe payers – adult wage earners in North America – that 20% carry 80% of the load.

· Hence, there are likely no more than 120,000 North Americans who play a very important part in the Mormon financial system. I will refer to these folks as Mormonism’s “Golden Geese”.

The reasonableness of this analysis is supported by the following calculation: LDS Inc.’s revenues were estimated at $6B per year (see Some of this would come from its business investments, but even allowing nothing for that, all it would take is $10,000 per person per year from 600,000 people to produce $6B in revenues per year. This shows that we are in the ballpark given the business revenues that are likely to be involved. Hence, I don’t think that I am underestimating the number of “serious” tithe payers within Mormondom.

It is my view that the sole meaningful source of new Golden Geese is the maturation of well-educated, North American Mormons. I don’t have the time to work that out properly, but it could be done based on the population numbers described above coupled with demographic data related to how large Mormon age cohorts are, and many Mormons are college educated. In the roughest of terms, if there are 1.25mm active Mormon North American young people, and they are evenly divided into 24 groups (one for each year from one to 24 when we will assume some Mormons start earning a reasonable college grad wage), this would mean that each year there are 52,000 potential new wage earners each year. No more than half will be college grads – 26,000. Many of those will be female and less likely to become Golden Geese. We will assume that 20,000 new tithe payers will appear each year. 20% of them will eventually become Golden Geese – 4,000.

So in that context, what are the effect of resignations? Someone worked out last year (as I recall) that there must have been in the neighbourhood of 70,000 resignations if the LDS Church’s published numbers related to membership increases, baptisms, deaths, etc. were accurate. That number does not surprise me. And, for every member that resigns many others simply quit attending and/or reduce their commitment level so as to reduce both time and money donated.

The critical issue is how many of those who resign or otherwise fade away were Golden Geese. I am not aware of anything other than anecdotal information to help us here. However, I run into and hear about a lot of people who are senior former Golden Geese and who have recently stopped laying. My guess is that LDS Inc. has been seeing for the past several years at least year over year decreases in its Golden Geese. The enormous increases in the size of the North American economy and the amounts of money Americans in particular have earned during the past few years have perhaps disguised this. But I recall hearing regular pleas from visiting GAs to the effect that even this relatively wealthy part of the Mormon world was barely carrying its weight.

I would love to hear from anyone who has access to the data needed to estimate how many Golden Geese fly the coop each year.

LDS Inc. has a huge asset base and that will allow it to weather all kinds of financial storms as it reinvents itself. However, the realization that cash flow from members is drying up will be a big part of what motivates charge. This will put writing on the wall that the leaders won’t miss. It will be interpreted as a lack of faith; a sign of the evil times; an indication that the end of days is near; and at the same time it will move Mormon leaders to change their tune just as did the US federal governments forcing polygamy off the table and the pressure of civil rights groups in the 1960s and 70s.

Finally, think about the behaviour of people and organizations who depend upon the perception of stability and success to generate future success. Stock promoters are famous for having lavish offices at times when they are not paying their rent and the banks are calling for their scalps, for example. Banks must maintain the appearance of stability in order to stay in business. This dictates the kind of offices they maintain and a variety of other things. This rule applies to many other similar enterprises, and religions like Mormonism fall into this category.

So, count on Mormonism to present itself as the most rock solid institution in the world, and even if it becomes cash strapped. It can’t afford to admit that, and I would not put it by Mormonism’s leaders to continue to build monuments to themselves as revenues dry up on a “build it and they will come theory”. After all, the largest statues on Easter Island were carved long after all of the trees had been cut down making it impossible to move the statues from the quarry. The people there appear to have been persuaded by their religious leaders that if they had the faith to carve, god would provide the means of locomotion as well as restoring their economic fortunes. Not long after this, civil war broke out as the perfidy and/or blindness of the leaders became apparent. This pattern has been repeated in many cultures where religious faith dominated reason. Time will tell how far down this path Mormonism will do.


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Where Is Mormonism Headed And The "Who Benefits" Principle
Friday, Feb 24, 2006, at 08:11 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
The theory of biological evolution has produced more accurate predictions that arguably any other single scientific theory. It is, in the world of science, an 800 pound gorilla. And it is based on three simple features of our world summarized by wikipedia as follows:

“In nature, all organisms produce more offspring than will survive and successfully reproduce. All offspring show variations in characteristics which can affect their chance of survival and reproduction in the prevailing conditions. Characteristics which are heritable and increase the reproductive success of individuals (or related individuals) will tend to become more common and be preserved in the population over successive generations, whereas other less favourable characteristics will tend to be become eliminated. Darwin called this process Natural Selection.”

The question “cui bono” or “who benefits” helps us to bring the principles of natural selection to bear when trying to predict evolutionary paths that will result from a change in either an environment or a set of genes. For example, when soot from the Industrial Revolution darkened trees in England, who would benefit – dark moths who could better hide form the birds seeking them, or light colored moths that would be more visible? We would guess that the dark moths would prosper, and hence are not surprised to hear that within a short time the moth population, as a result of natural selection, became darker in color.

The principles of natural selection can be applied loosely at least to the formation of culture through various models using memes and analogues to other aspects of evolutionary theory . These are used to explain the formation, maintenance and transmission of culture and while they lack the rigour of evolutionary theory applied to biology, they offer the best tools we have at the moment to predict the evolution of human culture. Here again, we find the question “cui bono?” to be useful in a wide variety of circumstances.

Who Benefits?

The key to applying the “who benefits” principle is to bear in mind an insight perhaps best expressed by Richard Dawkins . He explains that it helps to think of the genes themselves as the winners and losers in the natural selection game instead of one animal in particular or another. That is, biological organisms for the most part simply replicate as much as they can which means that the different sets of genes they carry represent as much as they can. And then the environment determines which sets of genes survive, and which don’t. Genes that are well suited to the environment survive and multiply. Those that are not suited do not. From one generation to the another, it is sets of genes that win or lose.

A loose analogy, at least, to how it is the fitness of genes that determines the nature of the biological organisms that prosper as the generations pass can be found in how the “fitness” of ideas and social practises available to particular social groups will influence the rise and fall of social habits and institutions. So, as we see environments around social groups changing, we can gain insight into behavior – past, present and future – by examining the fitness of the ideas and social practises that are available. The question “what is reasonably available?” is complicated given the complexity of factors related to organizational intentionality not to mention limits as to how far an organism can change in a given period of time. And, there are usually many ideas and social practises competing at close quarters for resources within any social group. So, the analysis required to use this model with reasonable scientific rigorously is at this point impossible. Nonetheless, the model is now useful. The best wecan hope for is access to the most useful information available, and in my view the use of this model advances the ball in terms of our ability to analyze group behaviors.

I have been thinking about the excellent comments on the thread noted above in light of the “who benefits” principle. As already noted, we can predict evolutionary paths to a degree by looking at environmental changes and thinking about the traits (or in the case of social evolution, ideas and social practises) that are likely to be most “fit” in the new environment. The internet has created a major environmental change for Mormonism. The question becomes, what kind of ideas and social behaviors will Mormonism likely keep and which will it deep six because they no longer work. Here are a few thoughts along those lines.

· Keep the Golden Geese laying: The focus will be on keeping the Golden Geese laying, and finding new Golden Geese. Hence, look for a focus on reactivation efforts; look for more profile being given to successful Mormons (like Mitt Romney) who will make the Golden Geese more comfortable within Mormonism; look for ways to make the Golden Geese more comfortable with Mormon history etc. because young Golden Geese are among those most likely find this stuff.

· Information Suppression. Look for more Bushmanesque apologetics because suppression no longer works; the facts are out; someone needs to explain them; who better than someone like Bushman? Conversely, look for less of the crazy Peterson style of apologetics. The faithful crowd gets nervous after running things like Two Cumorahs and Limited Geography by their friends and dealing something between polite smiles or outright disdain. But Bushman you can sell with a straight face. This will be particularly appealing to the Golden Geese to people who don’t know much about Mormon history.

· Leader Selection: The Golden Geese have always tended to be leaders (that is, money = blessings = spirituality). Given the increasing importance of the Golden Geese, look for this trend to strengthen. The forces of denial, cognitive dissonance etc. (see are more powerful while in leadership position because of how busy the leaders are, how often the have to affirm their beliefs in public, etc.

· Missionary Service: Missions cost money to run, and the return on investment will cause missions in Europe and North America to continue to be “consolidated” (closed). However, missionary efforts in the developing world will not produce cash flow either. So look for missionary work to be increasingly oriented toward the missionaries themselves. This has always been the case to a degree, but it will become more obvious. Which missionaries, for example, tend to return home and then go inactive? They are not worth the mission investment from the institutions point of view. I am willing to bet that pre-mission sin and quick repentance positively correlates with missionaries who are sent home early or don’t last long in activity after “returning with honor”. Hence, reduce the number of missionaries; focus on “quality” etc. And, send more missionaries to the third world where (like me) they will be less likely to learn about real Mormon history etc. while serving missions.

· Quality, not Quantity: Just as missionaries can be bad investments, so can members. Hence, raise the bar for who can be baptized. Particularly in developing countries. You don’t want tons of members who will be a cash drawn. But, if a well heeled professional wants to join (and that will happen on occasion), you can wave the rules because people like that know what they are doing.

· Volunteer Donations: As cash donations decline, look for increased reliance on the donation of time. Several posts above tagged this trend as already in evidence, and I agree. Prestige within the Mormon groups is an asset that will be increasingly converted into cash by LDS Inc. For example, older couples feel guilty about not going on missions. Look for the heat to be increased re. the older couples in this regard, and look for more opportunities for them to assuage their guilt by serving missions near home in ways that will save LDS Inc.’s cash flow for more important things, like being invested to generate more cash flow. The recent announcement that missionary couples will now be called to provide janitorial services runs along this line, as does the increasing opportunities to provide services that use professional skills like accounting and information processing.

· Non-Mormon Cash Needs: The Mormon Church has been criticized for its relatively small donations in aid of non-Mormons in disaster areas, etc. Other religious groups give many times per capita what Mormons give in this regard. Don’t look for this to change in light of the other pressures the Mormon financial system is likely to be under.

I am sure that others here can add to this list.


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A Message For All Apologists
Tuesday, Feb 28, 2006, at 08:34 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
For the most part, when I re-enter the Mormon world (or even its fringes) I experience vertigo. This is the world Lewis Carroll wrote about - a postmodern place where words mean what anyone wants, we must pretend nonsense is sense, and probabilities are ignored. Hence, we can prove anything, and nothing, to those who've passed through this looking glass.

We are the blind little boy in "Dumb and Dumber", cuddling our dead budgie and wondering what all that tape is doing around its neck while we try in vain to make it sing. And where it that nice man we bought the bird from? He was so nice, and we trusted him.

The Pythons' "Dead Parrot" sketch brings the point home (see

Our religion appears dead. We are distraught. And so we take our problem to smiling men and women whom we have until recently paid regularly and dearly for our beliefs. During one recent year, for example, FARMS received $27mm in tax deductible donations. And Mormonism's revenues are estimate at $6B annually. That's one hell of a dead dubgie pile.

Our coversation with the nice shopkeepers is funny for everyone except we whose blood and tears by the bucket was handed over in exchange for what is now obviously a dead bird.

And so it maddens us, at least initially, to listen to your comic nonsense. Eventually we calm down, but our experience with you and your ilk have permanently jaundiced us toward you.

This is not Wonderland. Go consort with your own kind where intellectual survival depends on one's ability to skate the razor's edge between sense and nonsense, or numb yourself so thoroughly that it doesn't matter.

Your world is as Alice described Jabberwocky. "It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather hard to understand!" (You see she didn't like to confess even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas--only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate---" (see
. We have our bellies more than full of you and your upsidedown-ness.

We don't care how sincere you are. We don't care how smart you are. We don't care how many of you there are. We don't care how long you talk, how many books you write or if you swear that you are eternal and hence can never, ever go away. All we care about is whether you make sense. If you don't, either leave or we will throw you out. It is that simple.

And don't whine about how unreasonable and closedminded we are. Your whining is even more irritating than your talking. We are as interested in talking to you as to the Young Earth Creationists, Holocaust Deniers, JWs, Scientologists, Alien Abductionists and a host of others. You are all no doubt charming people in many ways. But we don't have time to explore every nonsense invented by man and desperately changed each time more of its puerility shows through. Particularly in light of all of the other wonderful things we have recently discovered.

So enjoy your lives. We are enjoying ours.

And you've got the count of three to be out of our sight. One, two ...
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Why Bother With Debates A La Mccue / Peterson Proposal?
Thursday, Mar 2, 2006, at 07:49 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE   -Link To MC Article-
A theme in a number of threads that have come up in the wake of yesterday’s little showdown at the FAIR corral is – “A debate with Daniel Peterson is pointless. Why Bother?” So let me address that.

First, Dan Peterson was telling all who would listen to him that I, and others here, hide in our protected, ignorant backwater (while publishing essays on the Internet, I note, where anyone can critique them) instead of meeting him where he can deal with us. This was undeniably the spark that lit the flame. I wanted to see if he really wanted to exchange views with me. We have the answer to that question now. I was dismissed as insufficiently credentialed; unprincipled in various ways and hence likely to waste his time in debate; unworthy of his special attention in part because I have shown unscholarly tendencies in Internet postings; etc. If I was as soft a target and as venerated in the post-Mormon community as Peterson says I am, I would think he would have been licking his chops at the prospect of giving me a public spanking, showing everyone how shallow and foolish people like me are, and hence striking a heavy blow in favour of “the truth”. In any event, I knew what I was getting into, and am not surprised at how things turned out in this regard. See FARMS treatment of Grant Palmer ( for a primer on how Peterson and his friends deal with those who disagree with them.

A poster on another thread suggest that the best way to deal with publicity seekers like Peterson is to ignore them. In general I agree. And I stay away from FAIR and other similar places because they are a waste of time for me. However, in this case for the reasons I am in the process of stating I made an exception to the rules that I usually follow.

Second, most of what I write regarding Mormonism has the effect of putting Mormon experience in the broadest context of which I am capable. Nothing is more helpful when it comes to learning than perspective. Hence, this is what I do as I continue to try to figure out how I was affected by the Mormon conditioning system and how I can undo that effect both in me and those I love. A debate with Dan Peterson would force me to condense an immense amount of material into sound bites suited to the debating format. This is what I have to do when I go to court. And I am consistently amazed at the gems that can be squeezed out of mountains of data when under a requirement to present the best points in the most compelling format in a few minutes. Dan would have been forced to do the same with his defence of Mormonism’s emotional epistemology, and to explain why it is valid while all other emotion based epistemologies that produce contradictory “truths” are not; and why any such systems should be expected to be reliable given their general track record of unreliability. Dan and I would not agree with each other, that is for sure. But the debate would results in the concise articulation of two opposing ways of interpreting the evidence that life presents us. The only approach that is likely to work for Dan as he tries to defend Mormonism is one that relies on subjective, personal experience. My approach would be to show how unreliable that method of “knowing” is across a broad range of phenomena and cultures and to then ask over and over again on what basis Mormons justify certainty in their case against that background of unreliable outcomes. I think that it would have been useful for the contrast between these ways of knowing to have created in this format, presently publicly, and warehoused for future reference.

Third, as indicated on RFM religions like Mormonism depend heavily on “social proof”. A debate of the kind I proposed would attract attention to a variety of subjects related to Mormonism and hence would work against the power of Mormonism’s social proof.

Fourth, it takes energy to break through the cocoon surrounding Mormon belief. In my case, it was a request for help from a friend that got me on the Internet for the first time looking at Mormon issues. A month later I was intellectually out of Mormonism, and bleeding emotionally from every pore. A debate like the one I proposed would create a lot of energy. As a result, a lot of people whose perspective regarding their faith is limited as mine was would at one time or another be introduced to this debate and it would play a role in helping to reform their thinking. I say reform because most faithful Mormons use rational epistemic standards regarding most aspects of life other than their religious beliefs. The trick is to decompartmentalize their thinking.

Fifth, I am not under the delusion that a huge number of people would “see the light” as a result of this effort. The debate would have been a small step in the right direction. Since I had the ability to propose that the step be taken, and to take it if give the opportunity, I did that. I perceive myself as a member of a large choir, not as a soloist. If everyone takes the small steps of this kind of which they are capable, an immense amount can be accomplished. I still get feedback from people who read the letter I wrote to Jeffrey Holland (see or the radio debate/interview I had with Van Hale (see http